The Director General of the World Health Organization has reminded countries of the need to encourage innovation as they seek ways to improve access to health care in the world's poorer countries. The remarks were made by Dr. Margaret Chan in opening a session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property on November 5, 2007.

Noting that for many diseases of the poor, there are inadequacies in the treatments, and the diagnostic tools, available, Dr. Chan said that "Public health cannot move forward without innovation." Furthermore, it must be ongoing:

The need for innovation is constant. Resistance develops and drugs fail, creating an urgent need for second- and third-line medicines. We have seen this problem most acutely with HIV/AIDS. We are seeing it again with the spread of extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, which is far more costly and difficult to treat. For some diseases, we know that our greatest hope rests with the development of vaccines.

In her remarks, Dr. Chan also emphasized her commitment to equitable access to health care. Health has become more important on the international agenda because of the recognition that better health can reduce poverty. Chronic diseases impose the greatest burden on low- and middle-income countries and there is a challenge to promote health research and development in areas that most affect developing countries.

It is not possible to achieve those goals without also encouraging innovation:

The challenge is to work on multiple fronts: to meet the immediate need for equitable access to quality, affordable medicines, while also, at the same time, working to stimulate innovation.

For a copy of Dr. Chan's speech, please visit: