UN agencies procure more than $3bn (€2.8bn) worth of medicines – generic anti-retroviral drugs, malaria and tuberculosis treatments and vaccines – from manufacturers for their healthcare programmes each year.
This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) joined other UN agencies by agreeing to source from producers the use “green” methods. The Geneva, Switzerland-based agency said the move sends an important message to suppliers and manufacturers.
Spokesman Gregory Härtl told us it is “a broad and high-level commitment to the sustainable development principles we all have agreed to espouse in the context of our procurement practices and in the context of our engagement with suppliers.
“We would expect that manufacturers would strive to adopt sustainable practices as called for under SDG12.”
Härtl added that although the WHO has not yet had feedback from industry, “interest in this topic has been communicated to industry suppliers and manufacturers by the WHO and the other signatories, for example at the annual UN Global Supplier meetings.”
The commitment is in keeping with other industry-focused WHO policies like the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) prequalification programme which, in part, encourages suppliers to improve standards by promising access to regulated markets.
It also fits with other initiatives. In 2014, for example, the organization sought to encourage the pharmaceutical industry to invest in the development of treatments for diseases predominantly impacting people in the developing world – including Zika virus.
The same year, the World Health Assembly - the decision making body of the WHO - called on industry and Governments to control drug prices to make them more accessible to patients.
More recently, the WHO has been examining the economics of the vaccine market in a bid to find ways of improving access to sustainably produced vaccines in low and middle income countries.