Will the WHO have a say in the global drug trade or will it be marginalised ?
Globalisation is increasingly reducing the power of individual governments vis a vis multinational corporations whose annual turnover far exceed the gross national product of many wto members. This makes wto a major force influencing countries to open up to the world faster. Unfortunately this leaves a country vulnerable to market forces which can adversely affect its social sector. This could include sectors like health, as it was revealed during a prolonged legal battle between the pharmaceutical giants and South Africa which reached its pinnacle at the trip s meet (see Patents Vs patients on p20).
What is most alarming, especially for countries like South Africa and India is that by and large wto agreements have favoured the implementation of commerical regulation over those concerning public health. The World Health Organisation ( who ), the apex United Nations body that oversees global public health issues has been marginalised in the whole process. who has a mandate to make public health agreements, but has been sidelined in the wto decision-making process. This is evident from the fact that even in Seattle last year, who was invited only as a passive observer and not as an equal participant.
Surprisingly, the members of both the wto and who (or any other specialised un body) are the same, yet there appears to be a conflict of interests among the constituents of both these bodies. wto overtly seems to represent the interests of profit-seekers over people. In such a scenario, the role of who and its power in the international negotiating process is questionable. However there is nothing to prevent wto from being a part of other negotiations that may impact trade. The wto is already influencing the who / fao Ad Hoc Inter-Agency Task Force on Tobacco Control. Therefore the who has to play the role of coordinating the appropriate mechanism for monitoring the actual effect of new trade agreements on public health.
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