At the World Health Assembly in Geneva this week, representatives are debating whether or not to create a new international organization that would bind countries to fund research and development, or R&D, for neglected diseases – to which every nation would commit to spend at least .01 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on government-funded R&D devoted to meeting the health needs of developing countries.
The U.S. – the only nation meeting that requirement – is currently financing 70 percent of R&D in this area and would not be required to contribute additional funds. The proposed international organization would rather serve as a vehicle to get other nations to step up their contributions.
In an article on the Huffington Post today, reporter Zach Carter relays a conversation with the Director of the Office of Global Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, Nils Daulaire, MD, MPH, who also serves as the U.S. representative to the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board. Carter reported that during the conversation, Dulaire objected to nearly every main tenet of the proposed fund. This topic is currently being hotly debated at the World Health Assembly and advocates for the new R&D fund have identified the U.S. as leading the opposition to such a fund.
“At this time, we do not favor the establishment of an intergovernmental working group to further develop the … proposals,” Dulaire said, according to the article.
Dulaire appeared at a gathering of global health experts in Washington recently to discuss a WHO report detailing the April meeting of the Consultative Expert Working Group (CEWG) on R&D, which addresses the dearth of research into diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries and explores strategies to jump start this research. Amid an analysis of the current needs in developing countries and an assessment of various proposed solutions to mending the funding gap, the report discusses the proposed new R&D fund.
Dulaire highlighted the disappearing line between less developed countries and advanced economies – as evidenced by the growth of non-communicable diseases as significant health issues in developing countries.
The U.S. has invested almost $13 billion over the last decade in this area, and is the top funder of 26 of the 30 top diseases affecting low-income countries, Dulaire said, adding that he is proud that the U.S. is the country that has met the standard set by the commission.
“There has been a concerted effort to make sure that there has been real political pressure on investment in R&D diseases of poverty on the part of the U.S. government… this is not happenstance,” Dulaire said. To keep up with the U.S., Norway would have to increase their investment three-fold, India would have to increase their investment five times, the European Union five times, Brazil 10 times, and Japan – the third largest economy in the world – 50 times. “And we don’t even know what China invests [in this area].”
“We welcome and encourage the much greater involvement of all economies – especially low income countries,” Dulaire said. It remains unclear what about the proposed fund he, and presumably the Obama Administration, oppose. The World Health Assembly concludes on Saturday.