Are You Ready For UNcare?

Adam Berry / Getty Images News

Philip Thompson Associate, Property Rights Alliance
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Just as the U.S. Senate begins tackling  repeal and replace of the failed Obamacare experiment, an ominous UN body, the World Health Assembly, is considering sweeping policy that would undermine every U.S. reform.

This week, the WHA “the supreme decision-making body for the WHO” is meeting to elect the next director general. Held Iranian style, the body can only vote on candidates approved by the executive board, this year they put forward three candidates instead of the usual one, so things may be looking up.

Though, it may be part of a hypocrisy competition between UN bodies as one of the candidates Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is accused of covering up three cholera epidemics in his home country of Ethiopia when he was health minister there.

Earlier this year Saudi Arabia was elected to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women which is “exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.” It didn’t matter that in the Kingdom women are forbidden to drive and need permission from a male guardian to travel, marry, and file legal claims.

Dr. Tedros’s experience may come in handy in case the UN needs to evade responsibility for its own cholera epidemics. Last year, the agency claimed moral responsibility and legal immunity for bringing the deadly disease to Haiti, where it is now endemic and has claimed more than 9,000 lives.

The next item on the agenda is to increase mandatory contributions by member states by 3% to  $28 million, 80% of the $930 million budget originates from voluntary contributions. Conceived as an international coordinating body with technical expertise, the budget disburses funds to cover six core areas including emergency preparedness and communicable diseases. Though, according to expense reports it looks more like an international travel agency, “routinely spend[ing]… $200 million a year on travel,” much more than the $61 million on Malaria, $71 million on AIDS and hepatitis, and $59 million on tuberculosis.

Most of the WHA meeting will be spent on core policy ideas that cut to the heart of the US healthcare and innovation industries. Over the past year, the UN has been the made the arena of choice for promoting leftwing ideas such as universal health coverage, price controls on medicines, and replacing private competition from the research and development of new drugs with state controlled resource allocation.

The previous UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon convened a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines to investigate why not everyone is able to achieve “the highest attainable standard of health.” However, in the words of the Panel “it was limited because we were not assigned the task of analyzing all the reasons why health technologies are not available or affordable, even if we were conscious of the many unmet obligations with regard to the right to health.”

Indeed, the Panel was directed to investigate the “incoherence” between attaining the right to health and the “rights of inventors, international human rights law, trade rules and public health in the context of health technologies.” In short, from the start it was a hit job on capitalism and intellectual property.

Ultimately, the Panel report blamed “market-based models” and proposed outlandish policies such as encouraging states to compulsory license any medicine they wish, reduce intellectual property rights of universities conducting research, and called on governments to replace private R&D investment with public financing in order to delink end prices.

Most troubling were the recommendations to expand the role of the UN to intervene in the global pharmaceutical market. The report demanded the creation of a UN fund for medical research, a working group for governments to decide how the UN should invest in medical research, and a binding UN convention on delinkage.

Along the same lines, this month the UN hosted a Fair Pricing Forum to impose price controls on pharmaceuticals.

Meanwhile socialist regimes have been taking the UNHLP report to the WTO and other relevant fora to try to keep the UNHLP recommendations alive. Currently India is trying to insert the Panel’s ideas into a cancer resolution and in a WHA discussion on medicine shortages, while Brazil is pushing the issue of delinkage in the Germany led G20 health ministers meeting. Only the United States and a few allies have openly opposed the UNHLP report.

Discussing any of the UNHLP recommendations are a waste of time. There are real barriers to medicine-like high tariffs, impassible roads to hospitals, addressing the root causes of poverty, poor health knowledge and sanitary practices, costly and time-consuming regulatory hurdles, and discriminatory care but not the intellectual property system that has made medical breakthroughs an everyday occurrence. The right to health should not be used as a front door for Marxism.

Instead, the right to health should protect Haitians from UN peacekeepers who “casually dumped entire truck-loads of liquid human waste” into their rivers.

Delinkage, cost transparency, and price controls are a wolf in sheep clothing designed to shame profits and attack the US pharmaceutical industry not increase the quantity, quality, and invention of new drugs. These policies didn’t work in the Soviet Union, hardly work in Cuba, and have destroyed Venezuela.

Even Miss USA knows that healthcare can’t be given out to everyone equally. The newly crowned Miss Kara McCullough responded on stage that affordable health care for all U.S. citizens is aprivilege not a right. She elaborated it comes from jobs and cultivating opportunities.

The current intellectual property system does just that. It protects inventions as well as trademarks for brands and copyrights of artistic works – allowing the creation of IP-intensive industries in the U.S. and Europe where the laws are the strongest. These IP industries are responsible for nearly all pharmaceutical research in the world, as well as 40% of their GDP’s, and 127 million jobs which pay 46% more than comparable jobs in non-IP sectors.  Most striking, income per-capita in these countries is 21 times more than those with weak IP protections.

Clearly intellectual property protections which drive competition in the marketplace are part of the solution, not the problem. These principles help ensure abundance of the most essential resources like food.

When Boris Yeltsin visited Johnson Space Center in the Fall of 1989 it wasn’t the space shuttle that blew his mind, it was the rows and rows of every type of food imaginable at Randall’s Supermarket.  Yeltsin only know of the Soviet grocery system where state planning arranged availability of the highest standard of essential food — only possible only through a ration system. Yeltsin couldn’t believe such abundance and variety could be available and affordable without central planning.

Why should drug markets be treated any differently? Surely, the system that routinely elects notorious human rights abusers, most recently Sudan (who’s president is wanted for genocide by the International Criminal Court) was elected to the committee that oversees human rights groups, can’t be expected to do any better when it comes to inventing the next era of healthcare products.

Rather, the better bet is on the time-tested system of competition, not central planning, to ensure pharmacies will be stocked with rows of new cancer drugs, future therapies for autism, and treatments for diabetes.