The Geneva Network, a global think tank and leading voice for intellectual property (IP) rights, recently released a report of proposed steps to reform and strengthen the World Health Organization (WHO). The report comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has brought global attention to the WHO’s vital role in keeping the world safe from disease. As the WHO’s Executive Board meets in early October to review the global pandemic response, health leaders can draw from the Geneva Network’s findings to inform their discussion.
The Geneva Network notes that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has amplified concerns about the WHO’s crowded agenda, with a concern that the WHO is stretched too thin, distracted by work on side issues that lean far outside the WHO’s core global health mission. For example, the WHO’s opposition to strong intellectual property (IP) rights has particularly raised eyebrows, especially in light of evidence that robust protection of IP rights leads to life-saving innovation and economic growth.
The Geneva Network advocates reforms to focus the organization more squarely on the prevention of international outbreaks of disease. The think tank offered other suggestions such as revisiting the WHO’s Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors (which has at times erected barriers to dialogue with the private sector) and transferring its work on intellectual property to bodies with greater expertise and mandate, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and World Trade Organization (WTO).
The Geneva Network also encourages the United States the remain in the WHO to fight for much-needed reforms. Although the United States is in a presidential election season, both Democrats and Republicans have a long history of defending vital intellectual property incentives for biomedical innovation at the WHO. Regardless of who wins the November election, the United States could play an essential role in strengthening the WHO’s ability to respond to current and future global health challenges.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of why we need a WHO that is functional, appropriately resourced, and fit for purpose. The Geneva Network report offers a blueprint for an ambitious reform agenda.