A Clue to What the WHO Can Do: Achieving Progress at the World Health Assembly

The WHO World Health Assembly agenda is ambitious: Delegates hope that the decisions they make this week will save 29 million lives by 2023. It’s in everyone’s best interest to improve global health outcomes. Unfortunately, the best strategies to accomplish this shared goal aren’t as easily agreed upon.

The WHO continues to use intellectual property (IP) protections as a scapegoat in the argument for better access to medicines; they have fixated on divisive policies that aim to weaken IP protections. But research has shown that strong IP protections effectively increase access to medicines and deliver a host of health-centered socioeconomic benefits.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce International IP Index shows the significant positive correlation between robust IP architecture and human capital, access to advanced technologies, and innovation output. The Index shows that countries with robust IP architecture host 21 times more early-phase clinical trials, conduct 12 times more clinical research on biologic therapies, and are 53% more attractive to foreign direct investment in new discoveries.

In short, countries with strong IP systems are the drivers and sustainers behind medical innovation. Strong IP systems allow these countries to create and share new treatments and cures. When the WHO explores anti-IP policies, it harms the very infrastructure responsible for delivering health progress.

Additionally, 95% of the medicines on the WHO’s essential medicines list no longer receive IP protection. Undermining IP protections would not change the way these medicines are produced and distributed to patients; thus, undermining IP protections is not a viable solution to getting patients the medicines they need.

It’s time the WHO recognizes and addresses the true barriers to access: poor financing and infrastructure; workforce shortages; and lack of patient education. These are all challenges that the WHO can fix. We hope that at this week’s Assembly, delegates give up the IP scapegoat tactic and take a look at the global health system with a realistic, holistic view. 29 million lives – and countless lives beyond – are depending on them.

Ellen Szymanski is the is the executive director of international policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center.

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