World Health Assembly


Obama Admin opposes making other nations share cost of drugs | 

Flickr, by Rodrigo Senna

Fake drugs on the rise

On the face of it, this might sound a bit odd.

But then, that’s the way politics and foreign policy often sound. Odd.

The U.S., which pays for something like 70 percent of the costs of researching and developing new drugs, this week at the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva opposed creating a mechanism requiring other nations to pay more — a fair share.

In short, the Obama Administration opposed a plan to reduce our disproportionate spending on drug development.


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Did the week-long World Health Assembly accomplish anything? | 

world health organization logo


World Health Organization

At the close of the week-long meeting of the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the World Health Organization, it’s worth asking what was accomplished in Geneva to advance global health.

The WHO, which is supposed to set priorities and establish guidelines for the international community’s many efforts aimed at improving health or fighting disease, received the most attention for delaying a decision on whether or not to recommend finally destroying all remaining samples of smallpox virus.

As the Associated Press reported:

After two days of heated debate, the 193-nation World Health Assembly agreed by consensus to a compromise that calls for another review in 2014.

It’s a debate that’s been going on since 1986, following the 1980 eradication of this deadly and terrifying disease. The U.S. and Russia, which hold the remaining known smallpox stockpiles, opposed destruction in favor of continuing research. Most other countries wanted the scourge totally removed from the planet. Continue reading

Critics say World Health Organization too cozy with corporate interests | 

world health organization logo


World Health Organization

A number of civil society and non-profit organizations are claiming that the World Health Organization is overly influenced by commercial and corporate interests.

At this week’s World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Corporate Accountability International, which represents 100 organizations from 24 countries, claims the WHO is compromising its independence and mission of improving global health. The critics say:

The group is concerned about the influence companies could have on the WHO as it implements its Millennium Development Goals, which set benchmarks for improving access to drinking water and sanitation, and the prevention and control of noncommunicable diseases.

The umbrella organization delivered a formal letter to WHO director general Margaret Chan asking that the UN agency reject corporate influence and maintain its independence.

The AFP reports on another group, Council of Canadians, which contends WHO’s policy on water has favored the interest of corporations who seek to privatize many public water sources. The AFP quotes the Council chair Maude Barlow:

“The concern is that the relationship between the highest levels of the United Nations and the private water sector legitimizes the growing influence of these corporations on policy, both at the UN and at the nation-state level, which in turn promotes a private market system for water delivery and access at the expense of the public and the poor.”

News updates out of World Health Assembly | 

world health organization logo


World Health Organization

The main news today out of the World Health Assembly meeting being held this week in Geneva appears to be that the World Health Organization is dis-assembling and reinventing:

AFP: WHO in overhaul as health body faces losses

Washington Post: WHO head blames budget cuts on global financial crisis

IP Watch: WHO head embarking on most extensive reforms in history

SciDev: WHO must reinvent itself as health knowledge hub

AFP: Taiwan mad at WHO for calling it China

Bill Gates pushes world health assembly to boost vaccinations | 

It’s a simple thing, a vaccine.

But the simple lack of a vaccine in a poor community can bring death, heartache and even financial ruin to a family. It does, every day, with a yearly toll in the millions, mostly child deaths.


Bill Gates at World Health Assembly

“That was a sobering realization for me,” said Bill Gates, speaking today to the World Health Assembly and representatives of 193 member states.

Gates recalled when in 1998 he first read about rotavirus, hadn’t heard of it, and was stunned to learn the bug was killing half a million kids every year. He kept reading about vaccines and one of the primary missions of the Seattle philanthropy took shape.

“Thirty years ago, my colleagues and I envisioned a computer on every desktop,” Gates said. Now, what he’d be even more excited to see is that every child, anywhere in the world, has access to these inexpensive, basic tools of health.

“Vaccines are an extremely elegant technology,” he said. “They are inexpensive, easy to deliver and are proven to protect children from disease. At Microsoft, we dreamed about technologies that were so powerful and simple.”

Gates called upon those in attendance and world leaders to commit to expanding the use of vaccines in recognition that they are the most powerful means for achieving health.

Just by assuring every child is vaccinated (or more realistically, 90 percent), he said we can finally eradicate polio. Just by getting the basic vaccines out to the majority of children in the world would prevent millions of easily preventable child deaths every year. Families can avoid the tragic loss of a child and the sometimes terribly costly care, or loss of labor, that can tip them into poverty.

Many developing nations are already reaching the 90 percent mark, Gates said, citing Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Vietnam. Yet there are places where children never see a single vaccine, he said.

Gates wanted his audience to imagine what the world would be like if we could get this cheap, simple tool out there to every child. He talked about the polio campaign and urged everyone to stick it out. He mentioned PATH’s new meningitis vaccine project as an example of how innovative financing made it feasible to get a life-saving vaccine out to some of the poorest parts of Africa. Here is a synopsis of his vision.

Progress is being made through initiatives like GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, Gates said. But funding for GAVI is so far insufficient, progress is fragile and won’t be sustainable without greater support and investment from donors and governments, he said.

Gates called upon those gathered at the World Health Assembly to take some specific actions:

  1. Donor countries, you must increase your investment in vaccines and immunization, even though you are coping with budget crises. The GAVI Pledging meeting next month gives you and your governments the opportunity to show your support.
  2. Pharmaceutical companies, you must make sure vaccines are affordable for poor countries. Specifically, you must make a commitment to tiered pricing.
  3. All 193 member states, you must make vaccines a central focus of your health systems, to ensure that all your children have access to existing vaccines now—and to new ones as they become available.

If donors are generous, Gates said, we can prevent 4 million deaths by 2015 and, by 2020, we can prevent 10 million deaths.

“Together, and with your leadership, we can make this the decade in which we take full advantage of the technology of vaccines. When we do it, we will build an entirely new future based on the understanding that global health is the cornerstone of global prosperity.”

World Health Assembly opens to Taiwan outrage, smallpox debate, speeches by Bill Gates and Muhammad Yunus’ arch-enemy | 


World Health Organization

The World Health Assembly opens today in Geneva for week-long confab on what to do about global health.

I’ve not attended one of these meetings, which sets priorities for the World Health Organization, but from a distance it always looks like kind of a mess. A well-intentioned mess maybe but a mess nonetheless, partly because almost everything under the sun is allowed a place on the agenda. Continue reading