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UN-sponsored health assembly closes with agreements on flu control, medicines

UN-sponsored health assembly closes with agreements on flu control, medicines

World Health Assembly ends
The supreme decision-making body of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) wrapped up its annual session today, reaching last-minute agreements on pandemic influenza preparedness and access to medicines for the poor.

A budget increase of nearly $1 billion dollars and action on a wide variety of issues from adjusting malaria medications to bolstering emergency trauma care were also decided at the 60th World Health Assembly, which took place from 14 to 23 May in Geneva with more than 2,400 people from WHO’s 193 Member States, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other observers attending.

In its resolution on preparing for a possible massive outbreak of influenza – such as the H5N1 or “bird flu” virus – in humans, Member States agreed on the need to improve international cooperation through greater production of vaccines and equitable access to them under International Health Regulations (IHR).

“I want to underscore the importance of this decision, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told the delegates in her closing remarks. “My responsibilities in implementing the IHR depend on this sharing.”

In that light, the resolution tasks an interdisciplinary working group with drawing up new responsibilities for the WHO Influenza Collaborating Centre Network, and its H5 reference laboratories, for the purpose of sharing influenza viruses.

The topic of “public health, innovation and intellectual property” involves not only access to existing medicines, other therapies and diagnostics by the poor, but also the fact that some health products for diseases that affect developing countries are simply not developed at all due to the lack of a sustainable market, according to a WHO study released last year.

The resolution adopted by the Assembly encouraged the Director-General to guide the process to draw up a global strategy to remedy the problem and to provide technical and policy support to developing countries for that purpose.

“I am fully committed to this process and have noted your desire to move forward faster,” Dr. Chan commented. “We must make a tremendous effort. We know our incentive: the prevention of large numbers of needless deaths and suffering,” she said.