Fifty-eighth Session of the WHO Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, 10-14 September 2007, Jeju, Republic of Korea
Jeju, Republic of Korea, 13 September 2007—The World Health Organization (WHO) has taken the lead in addressing the availability and accessibility of drugs and vaccines often associated with "diseases of poverty" to people in developing countries.
Dr Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, called for greater cooperation between governments and drug companies, as well as other stakeholders, in providing a mechanism for the creation of new medicines and other products for diseases that greatly affect developing countries.
Dr Omi expressed hope that complementary mechanisms to spur innovation, such as public-private partnerships, would yield positive results. Traditionally, private industry has not seen great incentive to invest in medicines and vaccine development, mainly needed in developing countries.
Although access to essential medicines depends on a number of factors, the cost of medicines is an important element, especially in developing countries, as medicines are predominantly paid for by patients themselves.
Dr Omi told the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific meeting here that the contribution that innovation can make will be meaningful only if products are affordable and accessible.
Between 1975 and 1999, only 13 of about 1400 new drugs developed were for tropical or neglected diseases. Yet, these so-called "diseases of poverty" contribute to over 50% of the burden of diseases in low-income developing countries.
An intergovernmental working group, which is open to all countries, has drafted a global strategy and plan of action to address the health needs of developing countries, such as medicines, vaccines and diagnostic kits. The intergovernmental working group was created in response to a World Health Assembly resolution in 2006.
The intergovernmental working group's global strategy and plan of action, which is based on recommendations of the WHO Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health, will be finalized this November. Member States are strongly encouraged to participate in negotiations during this meeting after which recommendations will be presented to the World Health Assembly in May 2008 for endorsement.
Global responsibility for implementation of the strategy and plan of action will depend on a range of key players, including Member States and the WHO Secretariat, in collaboration with other international organizations, national institutions, development partners, pharmaceutical companies, product development partnerships and civil society.