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WHO agrees to address research on neglected diseases


GENEVA, May 26, 2012 (AFP) - Campaigners on Saturday welcomed a World Health Organization pledge to tackle research and funding gaps concerning some of the developing world's biggest killer diseases.

Member countries are expected to hold talks later this year on an expert group's recommendations that a globally binding convention is needed to address neglected tropical diseases (NTD), tuberculosis and others currently overlooked by the research industry.

It follows a meeting of the WHO's decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, in Geneva where members adopted a resolution calling on director general Margaret Chan to set up the meeting.

The document, the result of three days of negotiations, meanwhile urges governments and the private sector to boost investment in health research for diseases which disproportionately affect the developing world.

"While there's no doubt we are disappointed that there was not an immediate decision to move towards a research and development convention, countries have agreed to a formal process for considering the report's recommendations and will bring these discussions back to the WHO in January," said Michelle Childs, policy director from Medecins Sans Frontieres' access campaign.

The WHO-appointed group said in a report published last month that public investment in health research was currently dominated by wealthy countries and their own needs.

The panel recommended a "global binding instrument" to help developing countries access the drugs and technologies they require and suggested member states commit 0.01 percent of their GDP to fund the work.

The cash could be raised through an airline tax, a financial transaction charge or a levy on tobacco products, it said.

MSF says that where drugs and technologies do exist, they often fail to meet the specific needs of developing countries and are too costly.

Lacking are more effective treatments for drug-resistant tuberculosis, child versions of HIV drugs and vaccines that do not need to be refrigerated, the group said.

In a draft resolution submitted to the WHA, Kenya urged the immediate setting-up of a negotiating body to develop a convention based on the group's recommendations.

This was countered by a document from the United States, Japan and others supporting more informal consultations.

After about 15 hours of talks the agreed resolution requested Chan to "hold an open-ended member states meeting in order to analyse the report and the feasibility of the recommendations."

The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) said it hopes that national- and regional-level talks also requested in the resolution will pave the way for a global response.

"At this time of financial crisis, strong public commitment is needed to ensure new and adapted medical tools are made available, at an affordable price to neglected patients in developing countries," said spokesman Jean-Francois Alesandrini.

In its 64 years just one international treaty has been negotiated under the auspices of the WHO -- the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control adopted in 2003.


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