News came in last week that Indian scientist Dr. Yusuf Khwaja Hamied has been appointed to a high-level UN panel on health technology innovation and access. This 16 member panel has been described as an effort to escalate investments in research and development for diseases where financial returns are not guaranteed. The UN Secretary General stated that such a panel was of utmost necessity as there is an urgent need to ensure accessible medicines and treatment as well as promote innovations in health technology. He stated that the Ebola crisis highlighted the need for greater investments in research of diseases where financial returns are not guaranteed and particularly in the development of vaccines, medicines and diagnostic tests that are focused on the needs of the poor and marginalized communities. He noted that this was not the current practice and that most research and development of medicines, vaccines and tests was based on financial potential rather than need.
Dr. Hamied is the non-executive Chairman of generic pharmaceutical manufacturer Cipla and has been credited with providing the world’s first affordable AIDS medication in 2001. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2005. The UN in their statement noted that Hamied has led efforts to treat and eradicate AIDS and other diseases in the developing world, and to give patients life-saving medicines regardless of their ability to pay. The UN Secretary General stated that the members of the panel were well-respected individuals with a deep knowledge and understanding of the broad range of trade, public health, human rights and legal issues associated with access to treatment.
The panel is co-chaired by former President of Switzerland Ruth Dreifuss and former President of Botswana Festus Mogae. The other members of the panel are the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline Andrew Witty, the Executive Director of Oxfam International Winnie Byanyima, the Director General of South Africa’s Department of Health Malebona Precious Matsos, the President and Executive Director of Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) in the USA Maria Freire, the Director and lead author of the UNDP Human Development Reports Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, the former Prime Minister of Jordan Awn al Khasawneh, the Director of the Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS Shiba Phurailatpam, former Judge of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby, law professor Ruth Okediji, the Vice-President of Health Production and Innovation of the Brazilian think tank Fiocruz Jorge Bermudez, former member of the European Parliament Kinga Göncz, former Canadian Ambassador to the UN Stephen Lewis and former Brazilian Minister Celso Amorim. The panel is expected to hold its first meeting in December 2015 and to conduct extensive consultations with all the stakeholders such that recommendations can be submitted to the UN Secretary General in June 2016. Given the importance of the panel, it is indeed a matter of pride to see India represented by someone as qualified as Dr. Hamied.