World Health Organization Watch: Today Tobacco, Tomorrow All Pharmas?

World Health Organization Watch: Today Tobacco, Tomorrow All Pharmas?

The World Health Organization is surely one international organization folks from all political stripes can support, no? Well, maybe…unless you are a fan of tobacco and/or the protection of IP rights for pharmaceutical companies.

On Monday, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will go into effect. The Convention requires state parties to ensure tobacco sold in their countries have strong warnings and that advertising is limited or prohibited. The United States signed, not surprisingly, because it appears that the U.S. will have do very little to comply with this treaty given its already stringent controls on tobacco. Any non-smoker who has hung out in a Paris cafe, however, will wonder at France’s audacity in signing. Still, can a world ban on tobacco be far behind?

Meanwhile, a coalition of non-governmental groups formally petitioned WHO to initiate a treaty to create Kyoto-style regulation of pharmaceuticals. According to the FT,

Member states should pledge to invest a percentage of their gross domestic product in medical innovation, and would be allowed to trade “credits” with others through a mechanism similar to that in the Kyoto protocol designed to reduce environmental emissions.

They should also consider redirecting funding away from a traditional model based on intellectual property protection, and encourage the use of open sourcing to stimulate the sharing of information among medical researchers.

A working draft can be found here. The basic idea is to try to shift the way pharmaceuticals are developed away from large corporations who acquire IP rights and who are able to then extract huge profits toward an “open source” government supported system. I strongly doubt this could be more efficient or more effective than the current system at developing new drugs, although it may end up making drugs cheaper and more accessible. Still, this is a very ambitious treaty, but my guess is that it is yet another global governance initiative that the U.S. will not be signing up for anytime soon.

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