WHO meet on fake medicines whips up controversy on NGO participation

P.T. Jyothi Datta A.M. Jigeesh | Updated on November 18, 2012

In an article in the British Medical Journal, Prof Attaran and a group of academicians call for a global treaty to tackle fake medicines.

A World Health Organisation meet on tackling fake medicines in Buenos Aires has drawn attention of a different kind involving India.

A section of overseas academicians and non-government organisations (NGOs) is unhappy on being kept out of the WHO discussion, allegedly because of India.

A top Indian Health Ministry official, familiar with the WHO meeting, told Business Line that the Ministry and the Government have not communicated any such thing in writing or verbally, to anyone, nor has anyone been given the mandate to block NGOs from the WHO meet.

“Nothing is further from the truth,” the official said, on international media reports that India had blocked the participation of NGOs in the meeting, starting on Monday.

However, Professor Amir Attaran from University of Ottawa, Canada, told Business Line that NGOs were being kept out of the WHO meeting. And on probing the issue, he was told by diplomats familiar with the issue that India did not want the NGOs or the pharmaceutical companies that follow them.

Responding to another observation by Indian healthcare representatives, that the WHO meeting was for member-state representatives to put in a structure for governance – Attaran said, “if some countries feel that way, it needs to be reconsidered.”

The World Federation of Public Health Associations President, Jim Chauvin, told this correspondent, that their request to participate as an observer at a WHO-sponsored meeting was rejected by WHO, for the second time. The first instance, last year, was for a similar meeting on counterfeit medicines.

The rejections have been on “very weak explanations/rationale provided by WHO,” he said, adding that they would follow-up on the development.

As an NGO with official relations with the WHO, he said, the understanding is that they are encouraged to participate as observers. He, however, did not comment on whether WHO had departed from normal practice to keep NGOs out of this meeting.

On India blocking the NGOs, he said, “I have no information about this being the case, nor have I made any statements to this effect.”

India’s Dr Amit Sengupta with the People's Health Movement, said that most NGOs were supportive of India's position on intellectual property rights and generic medicines at international platforms. It was wrong if India did pressurise the WHO to keep NGOs out, he added.

On the development, international media quotes the WHO saying, member-states could invite whomever they want to the meetings.

Global framework

In an article in the British Medical Journal, Attaran and a group of academicians call for a global treaty to tackle fake medicines.

“Medicine markets are not just national anymore,” he says, underlining the need for Governments to work together to be able to report, investigate and prosecute trans-border crimes.

However, he stresses the need to clearly define illegitimate medicines – differentiating between sub-standard, falsified, counterfeit etc, so that intellectual property do not get mixed up with public health issues, affecting access to medicines.

Published on November 18, 2012

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