Meeting begins on R&D financing and coordination

Dr Margaret Chan
Director-General of the World Health Organization

Opening remarks at the Consultative Expert Working Group on R&D Financing and Coordination
Geneva, Switzerland

5 April 2011

Distinguished experts, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me express my personal appreciation to you for coming to Geneva and agreeing to participate in this Consultative Expert Working Group.

The concern about equity in access to essential medicines, especially for the poor, dates back to at least the middle of the 19th century. The ethical imperative has always been clear. People should not be denied access to life-saving medical products because of an inability to pay.

Fair access to essential medicines has been a high priority for WHO since its inception in 1948. This priority has been expressed in a large number of programmes and initiatives. The examples are well-known: model lists of essential medicines, model prescribing information, good manufacturing practices, schemes for quality assurance, support to drug regulatory authorities, and assistance to procurement officers seeking the most affordable prices.

These programmes have unquestionably done much good. But they did not tackle the root causes of inequitable access to medicines.

We can all be proud that an effort, coordinated by WHO, has moved, through a series of initiatives and sometimes difficult negotiations, to tackle some of these root causes.

These initiatives began with the 2004 Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health, and culminated in the adoption, in 2008, of the Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property.

The Global Strategy and Plan of Action called for the urgent establishment of an Expert Working Group on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination. The current Consultative Working Group responds to the request, made last May by Member States, to take forward this work and deepen its analysis.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me make just three points.

First, you are not starting from scratch. You are asked to review the proposed innovative sources of financing and the promising proposals already identified, and to explore additional proposals and options. You have been asked to look closely at the feasibility of implementation.

Second, the task you are commissioned to perform has lost none of its original urgency, so strongly underscored when the Expert Working Group was established. Many eyes will be watching your work closely and with great expectations.

Third, the resolution on this matter, adopted at last year’s World Health Assembly, asked the Secretariat to undertake several specific actions aimed at ensuring the transparency of your work and guarding it against conflicts of interest that might bias findings to favour commercial interests.

It is my understanding that the Secretariat has been diligent and conscientious in responding to these requests. If you judge otherwise, I need to know immediately.

This work needs to move forward quickly, and according to procedures that are fully transparent and fully acceptable to all concerned.

In my view, if there is any bias in your work, it should be to give a louder voice and a bigger say to the health needs of the poor.

Thank you.