This is a topic near and dear to my heart for several reasons, including the fact that I did a lot of research into intellectual property when my own creation was at risk of being taken and controlled by a corporation. Also, this follows my ethical discussion of quarantines and isolation across country borders.
The World Health Assembly (WHA) recently approved a global strategy for managing intellectual property issues and made progress on a draft action plan that was presented by a World Health Organization (WHO) working group.
Intellectual property rights have become a hot-button issue in global health circles, spurred by Indonesia's decision in early 2007 to cease sharing its H5N1 avian influenza virus samples. The country's stance has raised the possibility that it and other countries affected by H5N1 influenza might claim legal ownership of flu virus samples. Samples are needed to track viruses' transmissibility and drug susceptibility and to develop vaccines.
The WHO's recent work on intellectual property issues is related to but separate from its efforts to broker a virus-sharing agreement.
The United States is one of the countries that have opposed or had reservations about some of the items in the working group's draft plan.
Aside from balancing innovation with health needs and greater access to treatments and diagnostic tools, the strategy lays out a framework to:
* Assess developing countries' health needs and identify research and development priorities
* Promote work on diseases that disproportionately affect developing countries, along with those that impact vulnerable populations in all countries
* Explore and implement, when appropriate, research and development incentives
* Boost research and development capacity in developing countries
* Improve, promote, and accelerate technology transfer
* Remove access barriers to medical commodities
* Secure research and development financing for developing countries