Activists tell WHO delegates: “We can’t afford to wait. Our people are dying”

GENEVA, WEDNESDAY 25th MAY 2016: Today activists from Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM),  the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), STOPAIDS, Youth STOPAIDS, Young Professionals Chronic Disease Network (YP-CDN), Commons Network, People’s Health Movement and Salud por Derecho demonstrated outside the 69th World Health Assembly, demanding delegates begin negotiations on a binding agreement on Research and Development (R&D). For over a decade the World Health Organization (WHO) has danced around discussions on ways to fund medical research. While negotiations drag on in Geneva, millions of people across the world suffer from inappropriate and inadequate treatment – or no treatment at all.

“The way we manage medical innovation today prioritizes profits over people’s lives. It is failing people all over the world,” said Merith Basey, Executive Director of UAEM North America. “Currently WHO members are in a deadlock on an R&D agreement that could bring important new treatments to those in need. But patients cannot be kept waiting any longer, people die while they discuss.”

“The global system for funding medical R&D is now based upon the grant of monopolies and high prices for drugs, vaccines and other technologies.  This system is predictably unfair and predictably expensive.The WHO is being asked to create a new approach which is more cost effective and consistent with the right to health and access to medicines for all,” said Thiru Balasubramaniam, of KEI.

In 2012, the WHO asked a Consultative Expert Working Group on R&D (CEWG) to analyse the state of the R&D system and to propose solutions. The group issued a report stating that the current R&D system was unable to meet global health needs, and that a legally-binding R&D agreement should be developed to address this need. However negotiations on such a framework stalled. Today the agreement still faces a fight to get back on the agenda.

An R&D agreement would establish a method of developing new health technologies without relying on monopolies enforced by patents to act as incentives and rewards. It would provide a framework to collaboratively prioritise the most pressing health needs, and then link those priorities to greater and more sustainable sources of funding. WHO members could collectively improve R&D outcomes by progressively delinking the cost of R&D from end product prices.

“Diseases like TB have been neglected for many years. In the last 60 years only three new TB medicines have come to market, yet TB kills more than 1.5 million people per year,” said Varoon Mathur, UAEM student leader from Canada. “People with drug-resistant TB struggle with taking nearly 15,000 toxic pills for two years, and six months of daily painful injections. They face side effects such as psychosis, vomiting, hallucinations, suicidal feelings, fever, and even deafness. Even after all that the cure rate is appallingly low.”

The activists protested the ongoing delay in negotiations on this agreement, seeking to catch the attention of World Health Assembly attendees ahead of sessions on the issue planned for Thursday 26th May. “Sekuyoze kube nini sizabalaza” rang out from the group as they marched towards the Palais de Nations entrance – an isiZulu song asking “until when will we be struggling?”

“I am appealing to WHO members to recognise our common humanity. You are here not to serve narrow political interests. You are here not to serve certain businesses. You are here to serve the common good,” said Anele Yawa, General Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign. “You are here with a moral responsibility toward the families and friends of the 1.5 million people who died of TB last year. I appeal to you to make a binding R&D agreement a reality at this meeting. We cannot keep waiting.”

UAEM’s BACKGROUND POLICY BRIEF: http://www.uaem.org/cms/assets/uploads/2015/11/UAEM-Policy-Brief-on-the-CEWG.pdf

For more information please contact:

Merith Basey // UAEM // merith@essentialmedicine.org

Lotti Rutter // Treatment Action Campaign // lotti.rutter@tac.org.za

Thiru Balasubramaniam // Knowledge Ecology International // thiru@keionline.org

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