The lack of transparency surrounding a conference of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on access to medical products being organised in Delhi has raised eyebrows.
The list of participants, speakers and delegates is not on the conference website and most Indian activists and lawyers who have worked on access to medicine have not been invited.
The three-day conference titled “Ist World Conference on Access to Medical Products and International Laws for Trade and Health, in the context of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” starting on Tuesday is being organised by the WHO, health ministry and Indian Society of International Law. The website lists the sessions for each day but gives no details of the speakers. Those who want to register are told they will get an email confirming their registration if they are eligible to attend.
However, WHO and the ministry are tightlipped about what the eligibility criteria are. Both claimed the other did the vetting. Asked why Indian civil society groups working on access to medicines have not been invited, Dr Madhur Gupta of WHO told TOI: “We have civil society groups from all over the world and the hall can accommodate only 150 people. We have sent invitations to some Indian civil society groups also.”
However, she was not willing to reveal who had been invited from India other than ministry officials and representatives of international organisations. RG Singh, under secretary in the health ministry, said on Friday (November 17) that the participants’ list was being finalised by the WHO and would be on the website soon. He claimed not to have further details.
Anand Grover of Lawyers Collective told TOI that he had received an invitation a few months back after which he had heard nothing from the organisers.
“The conference is day after and I have no clue what I am speaking on and at what time. Indian activists have done all the work on access to medicine but have to play second fiddle to those from the US and abroad. This is ridiculous. Why invite and then behave in this manner?” asked Grover. “It’s a typical colonial mindset which acknowledges only civil society groups working in the global North and connected to activism in Geneva. Though India is organizing it, there seems to be scant respect for Indian civil society and the work it has done to ensure access to medicines in India, the pharmacy of the developing world,” said a senior civil society activist.
K Gopakumar of Third World Network, an international NGO, has been invited but said that the conference seemed to go against the WHO’s spirit of inclusive participation. “The registration process ought to be more transparent with publicly available eligibility criteria,” he said. Till Sunday evening, the website had no details and access to even background papers was only with a login password given to invited speakers or registered participants.