Indian scientist appointed to high-level panel on health

An eminent Indian scientist has been named by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to a high-level panel on health technology innovation and access, in an effort to escalate investments in research and development for diseases where financial returns are not guaranteed.

Yusuf Hamied, the non-executive chairman of generic pharmaceutical manufacturer Cipla will be part of the 16-member panel that will be co-chaired by former President of Switzerland Ruth Dreifuss and former President of Botswana Festus Mogae.

The UN said 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.

He offered the world’s first affordable AIDS medicine at the unprecedented cost of USD 1 per day in 2001.

He has also been influential in pioneering the development of multi-drug combination pills, notably for HIV, tuberculosis, asthma and other ailments chiefly affecting developing countries, as well as the development of paediatric formulations of drugs, especially those benefiting children in poor settings, a statement issued here said.

The UN secretary general said the panel’s eminent members are “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.”

Other members of the panel include CEO of British multinational pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline company Andrew Witty, executive director of non-governmental organisation Oxfam International Winnie Byanyima, director-general of South Africa’s Department of Health Malebona Precious Matsoso and president and executive director of Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) and member of the Advisory Committee to the Director of the National Institutes of Health in the US Maria Freire.

Ban emphasised that there is an urgent need to ensure that everyone can access quality treatment at affordable costs, while also incentivizing innovation and the development of new technologies such as vaccines, medicines and diagnostics, in order to ensure healthy lives and promote the well-being of people of all ages, as set out in the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goal.

Ban noted that at present, most research and development in vaccines, medicines and diagnostic tests are undertaken on the basis of financial potential rather than focused on the needs of the poorest and most marginalised communities.

He added that the recent Ebola crisis, which killed over 11,000 people in West Africa, highlighted the need to invest research and development of non-terminal diseases, including infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C, the rising burden of non-communicable disease, and the affordability of both modern and traditional health technologies.

The Panel is expected to hold its first meeting in December 2015 and to engage in extensive consultations with stakeholders, where a set of recommendations will be presented to Ban in June 2016.

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