After eight days of intense deliberations the 54th World Health Assembly closed its business in Geneva on 22 May 2001. The biggest event in the annual calendar for WHO, the Assembly charts the global course for the Organization and its 191 Member States in dealing with major public health threats. For the first time in WHO’s history, the United Nations Secretary-General addressed the Assembly. In his AIDS-focused speech, Mr Kofi Annan outlined the structure of a multi-billion dollar Global AIDS and Health Fund to fight HIV/AIDS and “other infectious diseases that blight the prospects for many developing countries -starting with TB and malaria”.
In a resolution on the global response to HIV/AIDS, Member States called on WHO’s Director-General to “take an active part, together with other international actors, in the development and establishment of a global HIV/AIDS and health fund and to maintain close collaboration with the international community and the private sector with the aim of providing the availability of medicines for HIV/ AIDS, including antiretroviral therapy”.
The resolution urges Member States to scale up their responses to HIV/AIDS, with particular emphasis on building up partnerships across sectors. It also addresses the issue of access to medicines, calling on the international community to “cooperate constructively in strengthening pharmaceutical policies and practices, including those applicable to generic drugs and intellectual property regimes, in order further to promote innovation and development of domestic industries consistent with international law”.
Another very important resolution linked to access to drugs was that on the WHO medicines strategy. Highlighting the number of people still without access to essential drugs the resolution urges Member States to promote equitable access to medicines. It requests the Director-General to stimulate the development of drugs for diseases which mainly occur in developing countries, and to increase efforts to report on health implications of international trade agreements. Monitoring and reporting on global drug prices were also requested as part of the efforts to increase equity in access to essential drugs (see box).
As part of Resolution WHA54.11 on WHO’s Medicines Strategy, the 54th World Health Assembly requested the Director-General:
“(1) jointly with Member States, nongovernmental organizations and other partners involved in public health, to keep under review the effectiveness of the current strategy for essential drugs, and to stimulate the development of drugs for diseases whose burden lies predominantly in poor countries;
(2) to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of implementing, in collaboration with nongovernmental organizations and other concerned partners, systems for voluntary monitoring of drug prices and reporting of global drug prices with a view to improving equity in access to essential drugs in health systems, and to provide support to Member States in that regard;
(3) to provide support for implementation of drug monitoring systems in order better to identify development of resistance, adverse reactions and misuse of drugs within health systems, thus promoting rational use of drugs;
(4) to continue and to enhance efforts to study and report on existing and future health implications of international trade agreements in close cooperation with appropriate intergovernmental organizations;
(5) to provide enhanced support to Member States that need and request it for achieving the priorities set out in the WHO medicines strategy;
(6) to provide support to Member States to set up efficient national regulatory mechanisms for quality assurance that will help ensure compliance with good manufacturing practices, bioavailability and bioequivalence;
(7) to continue WHO’s work in the field of traditional medicines;
(8) to report to the Fifty-fifth World Health Assembly on the progress of initiatives taken, globally or regionally, to expand access to essential drugs.”