The UN General Assembly Resolutions on COVID-19: Solemn Assurances for Access to Health Technologies without an Action Plan
By Nirmalya Syam
The United Nations (UN) has the mandate under the Charter of the United Nations to promote solutions to international health problems, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic. While the UN secretariat, led by the Secretary-General, has undertaken a number of initiatives in response to COVID-19, member State initiatives in the UN has so far been limited to two resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly. Member States are currently negotiating an omnibus resolution of the General Assembly on COVID-19. This policy brief analyzes the extent to which the General Assembly addresses the issue of timely, equitable and affordable access to health technologies, particularly for developing countries who have greater vulnerability to COVID-19. The adopted resolutions make very broad pledges for global solidarity but lack specific commitments to guide actions by member States. The omnibus resolution currently under negotiation should provide specific guidance to member States on actions to be taken based on the principles of solidarity and multilateral cooperation in diverse aspects impacted by COVID-19.
COVID-19 Economy vs. Human Rights: A Misleading Dichotomy
By Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky
While COVID-19 is a threat to the rights to life and health, the human rights impact of the crisis goes well beyond medical and public health concerns. The health crisis itself and a number of state measures to contain it-—mainly isolation and quarantine-—are leading the world into an economic recession. States and others need to take preventive and mitigating measures urgently to contain the pandemic and these must entail global cooperation and coordination. Just as the health crisis response must be rooted in human rights law, so too must national and international responses to the drastic economic downturn.
COVID-19 Crisis and Developing Countries: Digital Health Perspective
By Ambassador Fauzia Nasreen, Dr. Azeema Fareed, Ms. Huma Balouch
Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS)
Technology and Innovation are quintessentially relevant especially in dealing with the multiple threats posed by COVID-19. Most developing countries are already under tremendous stress because of financial constraints, enormous development challenges and technology innovation and knowledge deficiencies. COVID-19 which has disrupted every walk of life is having a multiplier effect on many countries, posing difficult governance choices. Reform and reorientation of the health system and structure is fundamentally important in dealing with the public health issues in the post COVID-19 period, and digital health could help in providing solutions.
The 73rdWorld Health Assembly and Resolution on COVID-19: Quest of Global Solidarity for Equitable Access to Health Products
By Nirmalya Syam, Mirza Alas and Vitor Ido
The annual meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA) of the World Health Organization (WHO) held virtually on 18-19 May 2020 discussed the global response to COVID-19 and adopted Resolution WHA73.1 on “COVID-19 Response”. The Resolution reaffirms the role of WHO as the directing and coordinating authority on international health work and it recognizes that all countries should have timely and affordable access to diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines as well as to essential health technologies and equipment to respond to COVID-19. However, the Resolution does not define concrete actions to address the pandemic. Though the Resolution makes a commitment of ensuring access to medical products, vaccines and equipment for all countries in a timely manner, there are no concrete actions defined. In order to ensure global equitable access, WHO Members should make full use of the flexibilities of the Agreement on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and also enhance transparency of costs of research and development (R&D), openness and sharing of data, tools and technologies, and build more capacity through technology transfer.
Compilation of Extracts from Selected Country Statements during 73rd World Health Assembly supporting Access to Health Products on COVID-19
The compilation below was done on the basis of published statements on the WHO website (https://apps.who.int/gb/statements/WHA73/) and the speeches delivered orally for those delegations which have not submitted their statements. This is a non-official document for information only.
South Centre Statement at the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA)
Today we are facing a global health, economic and social crisis, the most serious in the last hundred years. The resolution adopted by this World Health Assembly on COVID 19 should have been more ambitious given the dimension of the current crisis. The response to an exceptional challenge must be exceptional. The COVID 19 pandemic forces us to reflect on whether many health systems and the WHO itself were prepared to face this crisis.
This policy brief provides an overview of the outcomes of selected agenda items that were discussed at the 72nd session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) of the World Health Organization (WHO), held from 21 to 26 May 2019 in Geneva. These items reflect some of the health priorities of developing countries.
Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines: An Introduction to Key Issues – Some Basic Terms and Concepts
Intellectual property and patents in particular, have become one of the most debated issues on access to medicines, since the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the coming into force of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Patents are by no means the only barriers to access to life-saving medicines, but they can play a significant, or even determinant, role. During the term of patent protection, the patent holder’s ability to determine prices, in the absence of competition, can result in the medicine being unaffordable to the majority of people living in developing countries. This first issue of the “South Centre Training Materials” aims, in its first part, to provide an introduction to key issues in the field of access to medicines and intellectual property. The second part describes and defines some basic terms and concepts of this relatively new area of pharmaceuticals policies which are the trade related aspects of intellectual property rights that regulate the research, development and supply of medicines and health technologies in general.
South Centre Statement at the United Nations High Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage
Access to health is a human right and Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is essential to achieve health for all. States should ensure through public funding, based on solidarity and the fair redistribution of wealth, that nobody is deprived from health care. Policies that promote competitive markets for pharmaceuticals, particularly in the area of procurement, regulatory approvals (including biologicals) and intellectual property, should be implemented. Governments should make use of the available space in the TRIPS Agreement to apply rigorous definitions of invention and patentability standards and use other flexibilities allowed.Below is the South Centre’s Statement to the UN High-Level Meeting on UHC held on 23 September 2019 at the UN headquarters in New York. The Centre noted the recognition, in the draft political declaration, of the responsibilities of governments as well as of their right to choose their own path towards achieving UHC.
The worldwide problem of the rise in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a serious threat to global public health. The loss of efficacy of antibiotics and other antimicrobials affects everyone. Yet the threat is greater in developing countries, due to the higher incidence of infectious diseases. Developing countries will be unequivocally affected by AMR, deteriorating the health of the population, reducing economic growth and exacerbating poverty and inequalities. The blueprint for addressing AMR as a global problem is advanced. Countries are progressing in developing and implementing national action plans and overall the public awareness of AMR is increasing.
However, we are at the tip of the iceberg of response. AMR is not yet a key priority of most governments, and global coordination and resource mobilization to enable all countries to do their part are lagging. The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) in the upcoming 74th UN General Assembly (UNGA) will be reporting on the implementation of the UN resolution on AMR of 2016, including the recommendations of the Interagency Coordination Group (IACG) on Antimicrobial Resistance. The UNGA will also host a High-Level Meeting to build support for advancing Universal Health Coverage (UHC), that is essential for AMR response. Expanding primary health care services, strengthening the health work force, improving infection prevention and control and measures to secure access to essential medicines and others to reduce health inequities can help contain AMR in developing countries. Developing countries need to be actively involved in shaping the global agenda on antimicrobial resistance, including the new global governance mechanisms that are being set up for AMR.
Inequality is one of the greatest challenges that the world needs to face. Inequality is intimately linked with poverty. Although there has been progress in reducing poverty, a large part of the global population (overwhelmingly living in developing countries) is still denied access to a dignified life. While no poverty and reduced inequality are two of the outstanding Sustainable Development Goals, these and other goals are unlikely to be achieved by 2030. In fact, inequality is on the rise. Changing this situation will certainly require significant efforts at the national and regional level. But it also requires an international architecture that supports those efforts by respecting the policy space that countries need and coordinating constructive actions within the multilateral system. The current initiatives to ‘reform’ this system will only be legitimate if they recognize the gaps in the levels of development and contribute to effectively address them under a fair, pro-development system of rules. Please see last month’s SouthViews on “Understanding global inequality in the 21st century” by Jayati Ghosh, development economist and Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University.