The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are working together to support efforts to ensure the normal cross-border flow of vital medical supplies and other goods and services in the wake of the coronavirus.
The organisations have pledged to work assiduously to resolve unnecessary disruptions to global supply chains, in furtherance of the International Health Regulations (2005) and WTO rules.
This was in a joint statement signed by Roberto Azevêdo Director-General WTO and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Director-General WHO and copied to the Ghana News Agency in Accra.
“Protecting lives is our top priority, and these efforts can be impeded by unnecessary disruptions to global trade and supply chains.
Governments’ trade policy decisions significantly influence both getting medical equipment and supplies to where they are urgently needed and catalyzing the supply of critical inputs for the production of medicines and health technologies to fight the pandemic”, it said.
The statement said member countries needed to keep trade in health technologies as open and predictable as possible to help countries to respond to this crisis, to recover from it and to build the health systems that would foster greater resilience in the future.
It said the organizations with other international organizations and respective memberships are committed to responding effectively to the situation, calling for coordinated action to deal with the extraordinary challenges the pandemic poses to people’s health and their livelihoods.
The statement noted that the purpose of the International Health Regulations was to prevent, protect against, control and provide a public health response to the international spread of disease in ways that were commensurate with public health risks, to minimize interference with international traffic and trade.
“WTO rules provide governments with the flexibility they may need to address essential medical supply shortages and public health challenges, but any measure taken to promote public health that restricts trade should be “targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary”, consistent with recent calls from world leaders”.
It urged governments need to avoid measures that can disrupt supply chains and negatively impact the poorest and most vulnerable, notably in developing and least developed countries that were typically reliant on imports of medicines and medical equipment.
The statement called on members to continue to share information about their measures with WHO and WTO, in line with the established transparency mechanisms, which would be valuable in supporting a coordinated response.
It called on member countries to streamline conformity checks based on regulatory cooperation and international standards to ensure that health technologies, including diagnostics, medicines, vaccines and other medical supplies vital to treating patients infected by COVID-19, reach those in need quickly.
“We call upon governments to implement policy measures that can further facilitate their research and development and to promote their rapid dissemination within countries and across borders to ensure equitable access to those technologies.
Such initiatives include targeted investment, ensuring open access to clinical test results, the sharing of relevant intellectual property rights, increasing manufacturing capacity, open and transparent procurement regimes, the elimination of tariffs on relevant health technologies, and trade facilitation measures to reduce costs and delays”.