Speech by the UN Resident Coordinator ad Interim, Florence Rolle at the High-Level Meeting on Promoting Policy Coherence On Health Technology Innovation And Access In The ARIPO RegionNov 2, 2017
Ladies, Gentlemen, Friends, Allow me to start by wishing you all a very warm welcome to Lilongwe, Malawi on behalf of the United Nations. I know some of you have come from a long distance and we appreciate the effort made to be here today. It is my pleasure to make a few remarks on behalf of the United Nations System at this important three-day High-Level Meeting on Promoting Policy Coherence for Access and Innovation in Health Technologies co-hosted by the Government of Malawi and the United Nations Development Programme. I want to thank his Excellency the President of the Republic of Malawi Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika for his leadership in convening this timely meeting. President Mutharika has been a leader in advocating for the right of Least Developed Countries who are Members of the World Trade Organization to be exempted from having to grant pharmaceutical patents until at least 2033. His leadership in this area was one of the reasons that the UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe appointed His Excellency as the Champion on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). I would also like to extend my thanks to Malawi government counterpart teams across the Ministers of Justice, Health, Trade and Foreign Affairs that have worked so hard to make this meeting possible. From the perspective of the United Nations system, this meeting is both timely and important. As you are aware, Two years ago in New York, 193 UN Member States including Malawi adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which encompasses SDG 3 on “health and well-being”. SDG 3 commits UN Member States to attain universal health coverage, which includes equitable access to essential medicines and vaccines for all by the year 2030. We’ve seen impressive progress in improving health outcomes over the past fifteen years such as HIV. Lest we forget, at the turn of the century, an HIV diagnosis in Sub-Saharan Africa was practically akin to a death sentence. And that was because the medicines cost in excess of 10 000 USD per patient a year. Thanks to generic competition, WHO pre-qualified treatment for HIV is now available at approximately 1% of that cost, and millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa are on antiretroviral therapy as a result. Despite this, we still have a long way to go to meet the Universal Health Coverage target UN Member States committed to under Sustainable Development Goal 3. A variety of health challenges and needs are affecting us, including multiple infectious and communicable diseases burdens that are being multiplied by demographic, epidemiological and climate changes and a growing burden of non-communicable diseases. A significant barrier in accessing new medicines and other health technologies is their high prices when they are first introduced to the market, making them unaffordable to the public health systems and individuals alike. Consequently, the lack of affordability by the majority of people in the region threatens the financial sustainability of national health systems. Such high financial burden are major drivers of inequalities and poverty in low-and-middle-income countries. The need to align public health commitments as embodied in the Sustainable Development Goals with the right to health as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the rights of inventors was the reason why the United Nations Secretary General established the United Nations High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines. This important body was co-chaired by the Former Presidents of Botswana and Switzerland delivered its final report in September 2016. The High-Level Panel report has a simple and powerful message: no one should suffer because he or she can’t afford medicines, diagnostics or vaccines. The Report is rich on actionable recommendations and encourages countries in this region and their development partners to follow two dual strategies. First, they should support initiatives to promote the research and development of medicines, vaccines and diagnostics for diseases like Tuberculosis and malaria that the patent based system has failed to develop. Second, they should adopt and implement strategies to make expensive new health technologies such as those for the treatment of cancer and hepatitis more affordable for health systems and patients. One of the clearest recommendations in the report of the High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines is the need to improve policy coherence between national public health objectives and regional treaties and instruments such as the Harare Protocol. This particular meeting will focus on how exactly that: Malawi is one 13 Least-Developed Countries within the 19 Country ARIPO Membership. As noted, His Excellency the President has been a champion for protecting the rights of LDCs in international trade law architecture. The United Nations system is pleased to be facilitating on strengthening policy coherence between national public health interests and regional trade agreements. I am hopeful that this meeting will provide a blueprint or a common understanding by participants to take forward his Excellency Arthur Peter Mutharika’s vision to have the TRIPS flexibilities preserved for LDCs in the region. I want to finish by wishing you all very fruitful and constructive discussion at this meeting, ladies and gentlemen. I very much look forward to hearing the results of your deliberations and next steps as you have quite an important responsibility. I thank you for your personal commitment and wish you the best success as you embark in this important consultation. Thank you.