WHO Executive Board Meeting Addresses Agency’s Policy On Counterfeit, Substandard Medications

Intellectual Property Watch reports on how delegates at WHO’s executive board meeting used Wednesday to discuss WHO policy on counterfeit and substandard medications. According to the news service, WHO “members … raised strong concerns that a working group they mandated last May to address problems with WHO policy on counterfeit and substandard medicines has yet to be formed – with four months remaining before it must report back to members.”

Though WHO Director-General Margaret Chan assured members that a meeting of the working group was scheduled to take place Feb. 28 – March 2, delegates expressed concerns over the time that has lapsed without the group meeting, and the need to have time to review their recommendations ahead of the World Health Assembly in May, according to the news service.

While member states noted “falsified medicines were a threat for global public health,” some delegates argued “the solution [to fighting counterfeit and substandard medicines] cannot be dominated by intellectual property rights enforcement concerns,” Intellectual Property Watch writes.

The article reports that, among many things, delegates are looking to the working group for guidance on the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT), a group tasked with “halt[ing] the production, trading and selling of fake medicines around the globe,” according to the news service. Intellectual Property Watch writes that the taskforce has been “criticised in the past by some countries because they deemed the effort had led to some confusion between substandard, falsified or unsafe drugs with legal, reliable generic medicines.”

As a result, “India asked that the work of IMPACT be suspended for the moment until the working group could evaluate its work,” the news service writes. The piece includes reactions to India’s proposal and delay in the convening of the working group by Brazil, the EU, Mauritania, South Africa and the U.S.

The article also notes that on Tuesday, delegates offered up recommendations to strengthen the WHO’s global immunization and HIV/AIDS strategies (Saez, 1/19).

Meanwhile, in a piece reflecting on the debate taking place at the WHO board meeting over what to do with the “last known samples” of the smallpox virus, “currently held in labs in the U.S. and Russia,” NPR’s Morning Edition explores what experts say is a growing trend for researchers to get rid of “valuable specimens of … pathogens … for fear running afoul of legal restrictions on who can possess and work with these other microbes.”

The piece notes how an increase in “new restrictions on research into pathogens that could be potentially used by terrorists” by the government following September 11, 2001, led scientists to start destroying certain microbes due to the added costs associated with new security measures required to continue their focus on such strains. Arturo Casadevall of Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Michael Imperiale, a microbiologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who recently surveyed microbiologists across the country in an attempt to quantify the level of “microbial destruction,” describe possible ramifications of getting rid of the strains.

“In an e-mailed statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told NPR that the agency does try to help scientists transfer microbes to labs that can legally hold them. It noted that multiple collections have been transferred directly to the CDC – and in many cases, the agency even helped pay for the shipping,” according to NPR. The article also includes comments from a scientist who destroyed the microbe she had previously studied for years after the government classified it as a “so-called ‘Select Agent'” (Greenfieldboyce, 1/20).

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