Texts on virus sharing, IP and public health adopted at WHA

Geneva, 23 May (Kanaga Raja) -- The World Health Assembly wrapped up its sixtieth session Wednesday, reaching last-minute agreement on two key resolutions on pandemic influenza preparedness, and on public health, innovation and intellectual property.

Apart from these two key decisions agreed to on Wednesday, the WHA also adopted a raft of other resolutions on public health issues and on the technical and administrative work of the World Health Organization during its nine-day session (14-23 May).

The Assembly also approved a record budget for 2008-2009 of $4.2 billion, an increase of nearly $1 billion from the $3.3 billion approved for 2006-2007.

On Wednesday, Member States agreed on a resolution that will help all countries better prepare for the global public health threat which an influenza pandemic presents.

The resolution, "Sharing of Influenza viruses and access to vaccines and other benefits," restates the general principles of the necessity of sharing, both in the preparations for an influenza pandemic and the benefits that will flow from improved international cooperation and preparation, such as greater quantities of and equitable access to H5N1 and pandemic vaccines.

In her closing remarks, WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan told delegates, "All countries need to be aware of their obligations under the revised International Health Regulations. When collective security is at stake, public opinion can carry great weight. After very considerable discussion, you have adopted a resolution on the sharing of influenza viruses and access to pandemic vaccines and other benefits. I want to underscore the importance of this decision. My responsibilities in implementing the IHR depend on this sharing."

The resolution requests WHO to establish an international stockpile of vaccines for H5N1 or other influenza viruses of pandemic potential, and to formulate mechanisms and guidelines aimed at ensuring fair and equitable distribution of pandemic-influenza vaccines at affordable prices in the event of a pandemic.

It also tasks an interdisciplinary working group with drawing up new Terms of Reference (TORs) for the WHO Influenza Collaborating Centre Network, and its H5 reference laboratories, for the sharing of influenza viruses.

The Assembly also reached a last-minute agreement on public health, innovation and intellectual property. The resolution, amongst others, expressed appreciation to the Director-General for her commitment to the process of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the issue and encouraged her to guide the process to draw up a global strategy and plan of action.

The resolution also requested the Director-General to provide technical and policy support to countries.

Dr Chan said, "I am fully committed to this process and have noted your desire to move forward faster ... We must make a tremendous effort. We know our incentive: the prevention of large numbers of needless deaths and suffering."

In some other decisions taken during the sixtieth session, Member States expressed their concern that malaria continues to cause more than one million preventable deaths every year. The Assembly passed a resolution to intensify access to affordable, safe and effective antimalarial combination treatments, to intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancies, to insecticide treated mosquito nets, and indoor residual spraying for malaria control with suitable and safe insecticide.

Member States requested that donors adjust their policies so as to progressively cease to fund the provision and distribution of oral artemisinin monotherapies, and to join in campaigns to prohibit the marketing, distribution and use of counterfeit antimalarial medicines.

The WHA also adopted a resolution expressing concern over the continuous deterioration of the health and economic conditions of the populations in the occupied Palestinian territory. The need for universal coverage of health services was reaffirmed while recognizing that the acute shortage of financial and medical resources is jeopardizing access of the population to curative and preventive services.

The Assembly requested the WHO Director-General to report on the health and economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and to continue to provide the necessary technical assistance to meet the health needs of the Palestinians.

A resolution on rational use of medicines promotes an integrated, health systems approach to promoting more appropriate use of medicines - specifically, national multi-disciplinary bodies to monitor medicines use and promote rational use.

The Assembly agreed that a comprehensive review of all research undertaken on the variola virus, which causes smallpox, be undertaken beginning in 2010. The WHA asked that the results of that research - and conclusions concerning the need for any further research - be presented to the 64th World Health Assembly in 2011 (see SUNS #6255 dated 22 May 2007).

Member States also approved a resolution on the strengthening of health information systems and enhancing WHO's work on health statistics in general. They called on the Director-General to strengthen the information and evidence culture of WHO itself, and ensure the use of accurate and timely health statistics in order to generate evidence for major policy decisions and recommendations within WHO.

(Further analysis of the decisions on virus sharing and on IP and public health will be featured in future issue of SUNS.)