TWN Info Service on Health Issues (Jan08/02)
30 January 2008
Documentation presented and discussed at the EB is available at http://www.who.int/gb/
Below is a news report on EB Board’s discussion on one of the most controversial issues that dogged WHO in 2007 i.e. the sharing of avian influenza viruses and benefit sharing.
The 34-member EB, which began Monday, is preparing for the 61st World Health Assembly which meets in May. The EB also heard a report from the WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan and opening statements by EB members. The EB meeting is from 21-26 January.
The EB, meets at least twice a year, with the main function of giving effect to the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly, as well as to advising and generally facilitating the WHA's work.
Director-General Chan, in her report, highlighted that primary health care will be addressed in this year's World Health Report and that this year is the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of Alma Ata and the 60th anniversary of the WHO.
She said that primary health care is making a comeback on the development agenda, and it is being revisited partly in the context of stalled progress in meeting international goals. She further said that "we will not be able to reach the health related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) unless we return to the values, principles and approaches of primary health care."
She added that "we must reach these goals as the ability of countries to adapt to climate change will depend on the state of population health and the systems in place to protect it."
Chan also referred to some of the issues discussed at the WHO's Intergovernmental Meeting on avian flu. The IGM is seeking a timely, fair, transparent and equitable system for sharing of viruses and benefits. She further added that the Intergovernmental Working Group on Innovation, Public Health and IP sought to influence supply and demand in industry.
The influenza virus and benefit sharing, discussed on the first day of the EB meeting, is one of the most controversial issues that has dogged the WHO in 2007.
The 2007 World Health Assembly that considered the issue adopted Resolution WHA60.28, outlined the convening of processes to come up with a transparent, fair and equitable virus and benefit sharing mechanism.
of the processes, the Intergovernmental Meeting (IGM), met in November
2007 and considered several proposals by member states including proposals
On this issue, the EB had before it a set of documents, with a progress report on the outcome of the last intergovernmental meeting on virus and benefit sharing (EB 122/5).
The set of documents includes among others the scope of discussions of the IGM, an interim statement of the IGM on virus and benefit sharing, a compilation of proposed draft principles and operational elements for the virus and benefit sharing mechanism etc.
At the IGM, the interim statement was controversial (see SUNS #6374 dated 27 November 2007) with the African Group registering reservations, as it was unhappy with the late presentation of the statement (it was presented only on the final day of the IGM) and with the non-transparent process wherein the African Group was not consulted.
The interim statement acknowledges a breakdown of trust in the existing WHO influenza virus sharing system known as the Global Influenza Surveillance Network (GISN). It requests the WHO Director-General to set up a traceability mechanism to track all shared H5N1 and other potentially pandemic human viruses and the parts thereof as well as an advisory mechanism to monitor and guide the virus sharing system.
While awaiting the setting up of a permanent virus and benefit sharing system, the interim statement says that members agree to share viruses with GISN consistent with national laws and regulations.
Some members of the African Group also privately expressed concern that the interim statement would be used as a tool to delay negotiations.
While subsequently, the statement was accepted by the Africa Group, several of these concerns were again raised at the EB.
It further sought assurance that the proposals submitted by the African Region, Indonesia and Thailand on virus and benefit sharing mechanism will be published by the WHO and made available before the end of the EB meeting.
This concern was raised as the African Group proposal, presented at the 2007 November IGM, has to date not been placed on the WHO website nor officially issued.
China, a country very much affected by avian flu, stressed on equitable sharing of benefits in order to increase developing countries' response to avian flu. It said that the country providing the viruses should obtain information about the research results and have as a priority, access to relevant technologies. It also added that skilled technical personnel from countries providing the virus should be part of the research so as to build capacity of the provider country.
It further added that WHO should organize and coordinate member states on standard operating procedures for sharing of virus, with the scope of use clearly specified. It said that it hoped that the laboratories that receive the virus strains do not use the viruses provided for other types of research. It also supported stockpiling of drugs and vaccines to respond to pandemic influenza.
It said that the EU will continue to support integrated approaches to pandemic preparedness and underlined the leading role of the WHO in the Global Influenza Surveillance Network (GISN).
The legal counsel, Mr. Bill Kein, responding to the queries raised, said that it was not common to issue an interim statement. However, he said, the last paragraph of the statement invited the WHO Director-General to take the actions mentioned in the Statement. He also said that in terms of the nature of the measures, they were temporary and the IGM could agree on different measures.
He agreed that the papers proposed such as the Africa Group proposal was not yet up on the website, and that they will be put up following the EB.
In relation to the follow-up meeting to the IGM, the legal counsel mentioned that it was not possible for the open-ended working group to meet prior to the WHA in May and that the open-ended working group is most likely to take place in August, while the IGM in November.
David Heyman, a WHO Assistant Director-General, mentioned that the tracking mechanism would be about viruses shared with the WHO as of 24 November. It would track which countries have provided viruses and where the viruses have gone. The advisory mechanism and the definitive tracking mechanism are being established, he added.
issue of climate change and health was also before the EB on the first
day but its discussion was delayed following the
from the start of the meeting, the
The issue is to come for discussion later in the week. +