[Ip-health] Oxfam statement to WHO Executive Board on Global Framework on essential
health research and development
Fri Jan 27 05:03:03 2006
The Oxfam statement was presented by Sir John Sulston (FRS, 2002 Nobel
Laurete in Physiology or Medicine, Former Director of the Wellcome Trust
Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK) to the WHO Executive Board on Thursday
January 26, 2006.
AGENDA ITEM 4.10
Global Framework on essential health research and development
STATEMENT ON BEHALF OF OXFAM BY SIR JOHN SULSTON
OXFAM has invited me to deliver these comments to the WHO Executive
Board on the proposal by Brazil and Kenya for a new global framework on
essential health R&D.
The proposal is a constructive effort to deal with the dual problems of
a lack of medical R&D to develop treatments for neglected diseases, and
also for improved access to expensive new medicines.
Over the past few years the amount of R&D carried out to provide
treatments for neglected diseases has increased, most notably through
the mechanism of public private initiatives (PPIs). And progress has
been made in providing medicines at reduced prices to developing
countries to treat major threats to public health, through generic
competition and differential pricing schemes.
However, these limited steps are an insufficient response given the vast
scale of the problem we face today.
Every day over 35,000 people die from infectious diseases such as AIDS,
malaria tuberculosis, and other neglected diseases such as
Leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and sleeping sickness. Where drugs do
exist, million are unable to access them, frequently due to high prices.
Indeed, high drug prices are a critical barrier to access in all countries.
New thinking and changes to global public policy structures are required
if this situation is to change.
I have brought with me an Open Letter to the WHO Executive Board, signed
by more than 200 well known scientists from around the world. It reads:
Dear Members of the WHO Executive Board:
As scientists, many of whom work in fields connected with biomedicine,
we are writing to express our support for the resolution submitted by
the Republic of Kenya at the 117th meeting of the WHO Executive Board on
January 23rd 2006.
Although we have very varied scientific backgrounds, from basic research
to specific clinical research, we are all deeply concerned with
deficiencies in the way that biomedical research science is supported
and translated into treatments that improve health outcomes around the
world. In the research setting we see many possibilities to develop
drugs to treat neglected diseases, but a lack of sustainable support for
the R&D process. In the clinical setting we see the problem of
affordable drugs to a greater or lesser extent in health care systems in
At a time of huge progress in basic research science and more money
being spent on biomedical R&D than ever, we are deeply concerned about
the ability of existing mechanisms to translate this into a global
improvement in public health. We have all felt the impact and promise
of the free availability of genome sequence data, notably from the human
genome project. At the same time we see research activities
increasingly complicated by legal restrictions, such as intellectual
property rights, which can interfere with free data exchange and can
limit biomedical research progress. We do not see a good balance
between medical need and resource allocation in the existing system to
support R&D. For example, there is less focus on neglected diseases,
vaccines or replacement antibiotics than their potential impact on
global health outcomes would justify.
The resolution appears to address all of these issues in a balanced
way. For example, it does not seek to eliminate the use of patents to
incentivise commercial innovation, but instead allows other incentive
systems to be used along side and considered under trade rules. It also
proposes long term solutions to sustainable funding, prioritisation and
We call upon the Executive Board to support this important and timely
Finally, I can't help my thoughts going out not only to the millions who
are suffering and dying as a result of our collective neglect, but also
to my own grandchildren. They are lucky - they are in a situation where
they are fed and healthy. But I want them to grow up in a world that is
happier, more peaceful and more secure than the one we have today, and
that can only happen if we act soon to redress the injustices of the
present situation. My experience with the battles with public access to
the human genome sequence have led me to believe that our
responsibilities for global public health require a greater commitment
to the public interest. There is a great urgency, and I hope with all my
heart that the members of the Executive Board will support and act upon
this timely resolution.