The virtual continuation of the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) meeting, which took place from November 9-14, spurred energy and optimism for the continued fight against COVID-19. The WHO Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, opened with a call for unity and collaboration to ensure that health and well-being are at the center of our common future. He underscored the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic and called for a spirit of urgency: “We might be tired of COVID-19. But it is not tired of us…our only hope is science, solutions and solidarity.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and the power of innovation were center-stage throughout the Assembly, with much of the discussion devoted to vaccine production and distribution in light of Pfizer and BioNTech’s promising vaccine data. The WHO also gave updates on their Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, showcasing how multi-sector health champions, including scientists, global health experts, governments, and businesses, can work together within the innovation ecosystem to end the pandemic.
Specific to intellectual property (IP), WHO’s Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (GSPOA) was on the agenda. Member states such as Japan and Switzerland lauded the value of IP in incentivizing research. The United States echoed these sentiments and also emphasized the strategy’s potential in regulatory strengthening and building research capacity.
“We might be tired of COVID-19. But it is not tired of us…our only hope is science, solutions and solidarity.” – Dr. Tedros, WHO Director General
Additionally, nearly 30 public policy research institutes and think tanks offered simple reforms for governments to consider to accelerate access to medicines, like the therapies and vaccines in development for COVID-19. The two-pronged strategy offers solutions to reduce unnecessary medicine costs – like reducing taxes and eliminating tariffs and barriers – and speeding up access through simplifying approval processes, modernizing reimbursement decision-making, promoting free trade and supporting the innovation ecosystem. The reforms provide a critical path to ensuring that world leaders are taking steps to protect IP and foster the innovation needed to combat the global coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Tedros reiterated in his opening remarks that “the WHO welcome[s] any and all efforts to strengthen this organization – not for its own sake, but for the sake of the people we serve.” This expression of support is encouraging and echoes the calls for scientific progress and solutions heard throughout the meeting; it is also especially vital at a time when robust IP protections and life-saving innovation are more critical than ever.