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World Health Assembly News

Media outlets continue to track news emerging from the 63rd annual World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva.

The Associated Press reports on how the GAVI Alliance hopes the WHO “will pass a resolution later this week to step up efforts against pneumonia.” According to the news service, GAVI “needs $2.6 billion in funding through 2015” for its efforts to vaccinate children against pneumonia and rotavirus in 40 developing countries.

Former Irish President Mary Robinson, GAVI’s chair, “said Tuesday that WHO’s support would be a ‘terrific step forward. Pneumonia is the biggest child killer, and there’s such an inequity to it.’ Britain proposed the resolution at WHO’s 193-nation World Health Assembly. It should come to a vote by Friday,” the AP reports (5/18).

Nature News examines how a consortium of industry groups and non-governmental organizations gathered at the WHA have proposed a funding mechanism “that would channel billions of dollars a year into product development” for neglected diseases.  Proposed by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), Novartis and the George Institute for International Health, the scheme “would channel money from donors towards product-development partnerships (PDPs) – collaborative efforts between research agencies, donors and biotech and pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs, diagnostics and vaccines for the developing world,” the news service writes. “The fund aims to encourage contributions from donors who lack the resources or expertise to assess the quality and progress of the various PDP offerings,” according to Nature News.

The article highlights the growth of non-profit PDPs over the past 15 years which “are run like businesses, but are supported by donor funding, and have generous intellectual-property rules to make any products affordable to poor countries, allowing generic manufacturers to make cheap versions freely.”

“The [proposed] PDP+ Fund resembles the idea for a global research fund that was floated by a WHO expert panel in 2002 to complement the multibillion-dollar Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. This was created in the same year, but funds only disease-control measures, not research,” according to Nature News. The piece also notes the recent success PDPs have had in attracting donor funding from neglected-disease donors and pushing development of candidate products to treat neglected diseases (Butler, 5/18).

Tackling Counterfeit Medicines

The topic of counterfeit medicines will also be discussed during the WHA, Intellectual Property Watch writes in a piece that examines resolutions put forward by several countries regarding how to approach the issue.

“The use of the term ‘counterfeit’ has caused controversy at the WHO. … It is feared by some that the term will confuse [intellectual property] issues with health issues; many developing countries and civil society groups would prefer a focus on sub-standard drugs – which would include poor quality or expired drugs, as well as those that are fake,” the news service writes. Still, many feel an internationally coordinated effort is needed to combat counterfeit medicines.

“In numbers, counterfeit medicines are less common than substandard medicines, but the health risks are much greater and increasing,” Hans Hogerzeil, the director of the WHO’s Essential Medicines and Pharmaceutical Policies program, said during a meeting on the issue in ahead of the WHA.

According to the news service, world leaders plan to discuss the resolutions Wednesday at the WHA (Mara, 5/18).

In related news, the Nigerian government plans to submit a resolution on Wednesday asking for the WHO to support leaders’ efforts to reduce counterfeit drugs and medical products in the country, Vanguard/allAfrica.com reports. “The Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, told Vanguard that the country was committed to the issue of drug distribution and counterfeiting and as such was using the forum to call on WHO to continue to keep the issue in the public discourse,” the news service writes (Ogundipe, 5/19).

Leaders Meet, Speak At WHA

Agencia AngolaPress reports that Angola’s Health Minister Jose Van-Dunem and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius held meetings Tuesday during the WHA, where the two discussed U.S. support of global efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS and malaria (5/18).

Secretary Sebelius also met Tuesday with Yemen’s Minister of Public Health and Population Abdul-Karim Rase’a to discuss President Barack Obama’s Global Health Initiative as well as the health challenges facing Yemen, Yemen News Service reports (5/19).

VOA News reports on how Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson is challenging world health leaders gathered at the WHA to offer free health care to the poor. The news service writes that Johnson “note[d] more than 90 percent of Liberia’s population lives on less than $2 a day. This makes health care unaffordable. … Because of this sad reality, she says Liberia along with Nepal, Burundi, Sierra Leone and Ghana have established a new program, which allows the poorest members of their society to get the health care they need without having to pay for it up front” (Schlein, 5/18).

During a speech delivered to the WHA on Tuesday, Tawain’s Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang on Tuesday “outlined the country’s medical capabilities and stressed the importance of global cooperation in combating disease,” CNS/Focus Taiwan News Channel reports. The health minister also used the speech to emphasize to other global health leaders that the country was “more than willing to share its experience in promoting public health and strengthening epidemic prevention,” the news service writes (5/19).

During an address to leaders at the WHA Tuesday Pakistan’s Minister for Health Makhdoom Shahabuddin “said only a stable, functional and effective global health system would ensure that the people of world remain prepared for any health related challenge,” the Associated Press of Pakistan reports (5/18).

In related news, a UNAIDS article reports on how the agency is working with the governments in China and South Africa to determine the best ways “investments in AIDS can be used to leverage progress towards the other Millennium Develop Goals (MDGs).” According to UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, the organization’s executive director, met with Chen Zhu, the Chinese health minister, and Aaron Motsoaledi, South Africa’s health minister, on the eve of the WHA to discuss ways to collaborate to to develop “an ‘AIDS plus MDG agenda,’ which aims to position the AIDS movement as a force for accelerating progress towards the MDGs” (5/18).