Director-General's Office

WHO-WIPO-WTO Technical Symposium on Sustainable Development Goals: Innovative technologies to promote healthy lives and well-being

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General of the World Health Organization

WHO Headquarters, Geneva
26 February 2018

My brother Roberto, my brother Francis,

Distinguished participants, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning, and welcome to WHO. It’s great to have you here.

As you know, universal health coverage is one of the targets the nations of the world have adopted in the Sustainable Development Goals. And it’s also our top priority at WHO.

But we’re aware that achieving universal health coverage is not the job of WHO alone, or of the health sector alone. It will take cooperation between all of us.

Before we came here we had a trilateral discussion, and that’s why we were a bit late joining you. We have agreed to strengthen our partnership, take it even to a higher level, and to that effect we have agreed to give the responsibility to our ADGs and directors to design ways of strengthening the trilateral relationship, and also identify concrete areas of cooperation. That’s why we’re saying it needs the cooperation of all of us.

I thank Francis and Roberto for their commitment to strengthen the trilateral relationships between the three of our organizations.

So I’m delighted that we are able to come together like this to discuss how our three agencies can work together to make the vision of Health for All a reality.

Ultimately, countries that make progress toward universal health coverage don’t just achieve better health outcomes for their people. They also will progress toward the other health-related targets and the other SDGs.

Better health allows children to learn and adults to earn; it helps people escape from poverty; and it lays the foundation for long-term economic development.

Health is a fundamental and universal human right. No one should get sick or die just because they are poor or because they cannot access the services or technologies they need.

And access to health technologies—vaccines, diagnostics, medicines, medical devices and assistive technologies—is a key pillar of universal health coverage.

But as the burden of non-communicable diseases rises globally, so too does the financial burden of paying for long-term treatment.

Even access to off-patent medicines remains unaffordable for many. In developing countries, up to 90% of the population purchase medicines through out-of-pocket payments.

This is no longer only an issue for low- and middle-income countries.

In high-income countries, treatments for cancer, orphan drugs for the treatment of rare diseases, and insulin place significant financial strain on health systems.

While most high-income countries regulate drug prices, we need much greater transparency on how prices are set, and new business models that strike a balance between fair profits and public health priorities.

At the same time, we must give middle-income countries much greater power to negotiate prices. It’s frankly ridiculous that some drugs cost more in middle-income countries than they do in high-income countries with larger markets and more bargaining power.

Lack of access to health technologies is rarely due to a single reason. There are many, including intellectual property and trade.

International trade agreements can be powerful tools both for advancing health, or for harming it.

‘Good’ trade policies can help increase access by streamlining customs procedures, abolishing tariffs and fostering good procurement practices.

But trade agreements that extend patent monopolies and delay the availability of lower-priced generics put new and innovative health technologies out of reach for those who need them most.

We must not tolerate systems that put the protection of intellectual property ahead of the protection of health. Patients must always come before patents.

WHO remains committed to supporting innovative approaches to overcoming patent barriers, such as the Medicines Patent Pool, which aims to increase access and promote innovation in the fields of HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis through voluntary licensing and patent pooling.

WHO will continue, with other partners, to support countries to use the flexibilities provided in the TRIPS Agreement.

Through our Fair Pricing initiative, we are working to increase transparency of prices and research and development costs, as well as procurement to enable countries to achieve better deals.

We’re also helping to shape the R&D agenda, through initiatives such as the Global Antibiotic Research & Development Partnership, the R&D Blueprint and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations that develops vaccines to tackle pathogens with epidemic potential.

And we’re working to ensure greater transparency in clinical trials, so that decision-makers have all the information they need.

Last year, 21 of the world’s biggest research funders signed the WHO Statement on public disclosure of results from clinical trials, which commits them to registering all trials before they start, and reporting all results within 12 months.

Above all, we are working to foster the most important ingredient for increasing access: political will.

In all of this, the private sector has an important role to play. I started discussing with the private sector how to scale up access to innovative technologies to advance public health goals and the industry part of the solution. Our meeting was very productive.

We are currently working on an “access roadmap” that will be discussed by Member States.

But as I said, we are acutely aware that this is not a job we can do single-handed.

We’re committed to working with all partners, including WIPO and WTO, and other relevant agencies such as UNCTAD and UNDP, to help countries increase access and make progress towards universal health coverage.

Our discussions today are an important step on that road. Together, we can help to ensure a healthier, fairer and more prosperous world in which no-one is left behind.

I thank you.