A United Nations (UN) panel on Access to Medicines has called for governments to change the way in which research and development (R&D) of life-saving medicines is funded in order to make them more affordable for patients around the world and fight neglected diseases such as Ebola and Zika.
The rising costs of health technologies and the lack of new tools to tackle health problems, like antimicrobial resistance, is a problem in rich and poor countries alike.
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, established the panel to find a way to align human rights, trade, intellectual property and public health objectives, and thus improving affordability and access to medicines.
The report recommendations come at the end of a ten-month process for the panel under the leadership of the former President of the Swiss Confederation, Ruth Dreifuss, and the former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae.
According to the panel, bold approaches to both health technology innovation and ensuring access are necessary to make sure that all people can benefit from the medical advances.
The panel warns that “it is imperative that governments increase their current levels of investment in health technology innovation” in order to provide “fair rewards for the inventors while ensuring that prices remain fair and affordable.”
“With no market incentives, there is an innovation gap in diseases that predominantly affect neglected populations, rare diseases and a crisis particularly with antimicrobial resistance, which poses a threat to humanity,” said Director General of the National Department of Health of South Africa, Malebona Precious Matsoso.
“Our report calls on governments to negotiate global agreements on the coordination, financing and development of health technologies to complement existing innovation models, including a binding R&D Convention that delinks the costs of R&D from end prices,” continued Matsoso.
The panel raised concerns regarding the negative impact of insufficient transparency and criticised the lack of transparency surrounding bilateral free trade and investment negotiations, saying transparency was needed to hold all stakeholders accountable for their actions.
“A paradigm shift in transparency is needed to ensure that the costs of R&D, production, marketing, and distribution, as well as the end prices of health technologies are clear to consumers and governments,” said Mogae.
“Governments should require manufacturers and distributors of health technologies to disclose these costs and the details of any public funding received in the development of health technologies, including tax credits, subsidies and grants,” continued Mogae.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF – Doctors Without Borders) welcomed the panel’s recommendations saying that the report outlines the global failure of the medical research system to develop medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics that address unmet medical needs affecting communities across the globe.
“MSF welcomes the panel’s recommendations on the need for new incentives for research and development, for greater transparency, as well as for strategies to deal with intellectual property barriers, all with the aim of improving medical innovation and access to health technologies.
Executive Director of Oxfam, Winnie Byanyima, and a member of the panel said: “This report gets to the heart of the problem with access to medicines – that the intellectual property rules promoted by the pharmaceutical industry are at odds with the human right to health. If implemented the report’s recommendations will go a long way towards ensuring all people have access to affordable quality medicines.”
The panel also recommended the UN General Assembly convene a Special Session no later than 2018 on health technology innovation and access to agree on strategies and an accountability framework that will accelerate efforts towards promoting innovation and ensuring access in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.