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WHO Talks on Innovation and Access

In May 2008, World Health Organization (WHO) member states adopted the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property, a move which marked the end of two years of difficult multilateral negotiations.
Two sides of the same coin
It marked a significant milestone in addressing issues of sustainable research and development innovation and access to medicines. While these two issues – on the one hand, driving medical innovation so that it answers the needs of developing countries and on the other, ensuring affordable access to the latest diagnostics, vaccines and medicines – are inextricably linked, it wasn’t until the adoption of the Global Strategy that these issues were looked at as part of the same problem.
The promise of high prices is what drives medical innovation to answer the needs of wealthy markets and disregard more pressing needs in populations that cannot afford it.  At the same time, the need to recoup the costs of R&D through high prices means that those who cannot pay must go without.
For the first time, countries took the lead and spearheaded an initiative that aims to tackle the issues of innovation and access together, at the same time.
Of course, much depends on how the Strategy will be implemented in the years ahead.  But the document represented an historic achievement, as WHO and its member states agree to address the problems of access to medicines and medical innovation and come up with new ways of stimulating drug, diagnostic and vaccine development. Promising mechanisms that allow for the delinking of the costs of research from the price of the final product and provide a pathway for orienting R&D towards priority health needs exist. These now need to be put in practice.
Charting the progress of WHO talks on innovation and access
January 2006: At the WHO Executive Board (EB), Brazil and Kenya put forward a resolution calling on WHO to create a working group to tackle issues of sustainable innovation and access [PDF]; 285 scientists from 51 countries, including five Nobel Prize winners publish an open letter supporting the idea.  
April 2006: After several years of public deliberations, WHO 's Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation, and Public Health (CIPIH) issues its final report.  It determines that while governments must take responsibility, WHO needed to take the lead, to promote more sustainable funding mechanisms for innovation and to address issues where intellectual property acts as a barrier to access to medicines. MSF releases a statement calling on governments to act on the recommendations of this report.
May 2006: Brazil and Kenya’s proposed resolution is adopted [PDF], leading to the Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG) being formally established at the 59th World Health Assembly (WHA).  Its mandate is to create a framework and plan of action designed to secure sustainable R&D for the diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries. MSF welcomes the resolution and subsequently participates in public hearings at the end of 2006, November 2007, and May 2008.
May 2008: After two years of intergovernmental negotiations, countries adopt the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property at the 61st WHA [PDF]. MSF is encouraged by the adoption of the Global Strategy, and calls for practical but ambitious proposals to ensure progress.  One of the first concrete outcomes of the Global Strategy is the creation of an Expert Working Group on Research and Development Financing (EWG) that would examine new and innovative sources of funding R&D.
May 2010: In place of the EWG, the Consultative Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination (CEWG) is created at the 63rd WHA, and is due to report back at the 65th WHA in May 2012.

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