TWN Info Service on Health Issues (Dec20/13)
21 December 2020
Third World Network

Dear friends and colleagues,

We are happy to share with you a new TWN Briefing Paper titled “Access and benefit sharing for pathogens: An overview of the issues facing the 2021 World Health Assembly and WHO Executive Board” by Edward Hammond.

In the light of recent disease outbreaks, most obviously the COVID-19 pandemic but also epidemics of Ebola, Zika and other diseases, access to pathogens and the sharing of benefits from their use is a topic that will take a leading place on the World Health Assembly (WHA) agenda in 2021 and quite possibly thereafter. At its meeting in January 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board (EB) will discuss the issue and the outcome of that discussion will proceed to the 74th WHA itself in May 2021. The WHA is WHO’s top decision-making body.

The EB will consider implementation of WHA decision 72(13), “The public health implications of implementation of the Nagoya Protocol”, which directed the creation of outputs that the WHA and EB will consider. WHA72(13) requested the WHO Director-General to provide information on current pathogen-sharing practices and arrangements, the implementation of access and benefit-sharing measures, as well as the potential public health outcomes and other implications.

(The Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing that entered into force in 2014 is a treaty that was negotiated under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the scope covers pathogens.)

The paper sets out the issues that will be discussed at the January and May meetings, emphasizing that fairness and equity in the commercial use of pathogens is at the root of the policy questions that the EB and WHA must confront. Though many pathogens are initially transferred for public health purposes, what frequently happens next is that the financial and sometimes health benefits from the use of those pathogens are disproportionately captured by proprietary economic interests and wealthy countries.

The WHO has benefit sharing experience in its Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework of 2011. The paper argues that implementation of the Nagoya Protocol through the development of PIP Framework-type approaches for seasonal influenza and perhaps potentially pandemic pathogens can bolster public health by creating standardized systems for access and fair and equitable benefit sharing, and the EB and WHA should consider undertaking such an approach.

The paper is available here:

With best wishes,
Third World Network