May 18, 2016

WHO's doing WHA for the 69th time next week!

Matthew Robinson, MA
Policy and Advocacy Officer

This coming week the “who’s who” of the global health community (as well as some much more modest global health advocates such as your humble author) will make the annual trek to Geneva, Switzerland, for the 69th World Health Assembly (WHA), where World Health Organization (WHO) member states will collectively decide WHO’s plans for the coming year.

This year’s agenda is packed and includes many topics that could impact global health research and development (R&D). Below are the agenda items GHTC will be tracking in Geneva and topics we’ll dig into in more detail at a May 23 side event and webinar we are cohosting with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, Global Health R&D: What’s at stake during the 69th WHA?

Framework of engagement with non-State actors

WHO routinely engages with a variety of non-State actors (NSAs)—any organization other than a member state. These collaborations support core components of WHO’s global health strategy. Some have argued, however, that WHO’s current ad-hoc approach to managing such engagements undermines its independence and impartiality. As I have written previously, the current draft framework runs the very real risk of excluding key WHO partners and actors in the global health R&D community. Given the significant member state pushback against the proposal, it will be fascinating to see how the tension is resolved.

Health in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

With the approval of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, the global development community has been trying to sort out how to implement and measure programming to achieve what are, by all admissions, extremely ambitious targets. WHO is no different, and has been hard at work laying out strategies to achieve the various components of goal 3, the “health SDG.” It is particularly heartening that target 3.b specifically commits member states to supporting health R&D. What shape this will take, and how WHO will engage are definitely hot topics to watch at this WHA.

Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance

Following the 68th WHA’s adoption of the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), WHO has been working to develop strategic options to achieve the plan’s goals and will be presenting a progress update and an options paper to WHA this year for input. GHTC is closely monitoring plans for the R&D objective, which states: “… develop the economic case for sustainable investment that takes account of the needs of all countries, and increase investment in new medicines, diagnostic tools, vaccines and other interventions.” While the options paper is quite broad, in the R&D space the WHO Secretariat is specifically asking for input on methods to de-link R&D costs from sale price, how best to support access to innovative antimicrobials, and how to develop a prioritization mechanism to support appropriate R&D on AMR specifically. Given the danger that the global rise of AMR represents, the discussion is likely to be extensive and intense.

Follow-up to the report of the Consultative Expert Working Group (CEWG) on Research and Development: Financing and Coordination (Report of the open-ended meeting of Member States)

GHTC has been following the CEWG process for some time as it winds its way forward after what has already been a decade-long process. The prototype R&D observatory is now online, and the demonstration projects are returning their progress reports. The WHO Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) has prepared an analysis that outlines how a pooled fund and R&D observatory could work to identify unmet needs and channel funds to those R&D projects. While almost everyone agrees that additional funds and greater coordination are sorely needed, as we heard at GHTC’s webinar on CEWG, the jury is still split on the CEWG’s specific proposals. While it is unlikely that the CEWG process will come to an end at this WHA, the number of concerns that can be ironed out with all the decision-makers in the room will be telling in regards to future prospects.
For more analysis on these subjects, read GHTC’s fact sheet on Research and development at the 69th World Health Assembly.