Ellen ‘t Hoen, is a lawyer who has been advocating for public health issues for more than 30 years, specializing in policies related to the pharmaceutical industry and intellectual property. She has worked as a consultant to governments, international organizations and civil society organizations. From 2009 to 2012, she joined UNITAID to help set up the Medicines Patent Pool, to make medicines available in developing countries. She currently works as a researcher in the Public Health Unit of the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands. On the occasion of the latest developments between Costa Rica and the World Health Organization, we asked her to answer the following questions.
Costa Rica made a very important proposal and WHO seems to be interested in adopting it (i will explain in the introduction). From your experience of the MPP, how do you think that this new entity/body should be formed and governed by?
Last Friday the WHO together with the presidents of Costa Rica and Chile, made a pre-announcement of the plans to establish the Covid-19 Pool. The official launch will be on 29 May. WHO will and should be the agency in charge but others can perform key tasks. For example the Medicines Patent Pool which has a great track record in licensing patents can take care of that part. But the WHO needs to be in the lead since this is a global pandemic that will require more than patent licenses. The Pool should also hold data, know-how, knowledge, technology needed to produce the products currently under development.
What kind of structural changes does WHO need after evaluating its process by now in terms of governance, financing and transparency, that ease him leading a global patent pool entity or more global efforts in finding answers for future pandemics or neglected deceases?
I do not think WHO needs any structural changes to do this. Of course a lot of detail will need to be sorted out and WHO will need resources to do so. It is therefor also important That UNITAID is backing the proposal.
Do you think that the European Commission organized the Pledge on a late stage? And anyway Macron’s, Merkel’s and other leaders’ statements of last week what could have any effect on the future of access to medicines in the EU region?
I think it is fair to say that the world was not prepared for this outbreak. I think it is very significant that leaders such as Macron and Merkel clearly stated that no one can own the vaccine. They do not want monopolies and used the term ‘Global Public Good’ when talking about a Covid-19 vaccine. But words alone are not enough. What they need to do now is attach mandatory conditions to the research and development funding that the results of the research is shared with the WHO Covid-19 Pool. There is a small window to do that now. The current vaccine candidate conflicts that are breaking out demonstrate how important that is.