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Right to Science Exemplars: International Cooperation

The following exemplars demonstrate the steps that governments can take to "recognize the benefits to be derived from the encouragement and development of international contacts and cooperation in the scientific" field as required by Article 15.

Research cooperation

International collaboration can greatly enhance the quality and increase the impact of scientific research. It can be difficult, however, to overcome barriers to cooperation such as intellectual property laws, restrictive policies that discourage mobility of and communication among scientists, and significant disparities in scientific capacity and available resources. China and India provide an example of two countries that have overcome such barriers, as well as years of mistrust and conflict, to develop a strong collaborative relationship that has led to significant advances, including improved responses in addressing national disasters.

In December 1988, the governments of India and China reached a formal agreement to cooperate in questions of science and technology. Historic tensions that existed between the two countries, however, hindered the practical implementation of the agreement. By 2002 these tensions had dissipated sufficiently to allow for a visit to India by the Chinese Prime Minister. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding science and technology research and information sharing, including in the areas of space research and hydrological data. The MoU became one of twenty agreements on science and technology signed by the two governments since 1988.

Before 2002, joint Chinese/Indian research focused primarily on physics and clinical medicine. Since the policy change, joint research initiatives encompass several new applications of science. Collaborations in environmental science include the launch of joint projects on climate change, nanotechnology, and biotechnology. There are also plans for the cooperative use of satellites for communication, remote sensing, and meteorology and disaster mitigation.

As part of the agreement to share hydrological information, China has provided data to India about the annual flooding of the Brahmaputra River, also called the Yalu Zangbu River, a major Asian waterway that borders on Tibet, India, and Bangladesh. With this data, India is able to establish more effective emergency management strategies, and in 2004 the information was successfully used by Indias Central Water Commission in flood forecasting. The National Natural Science Foundation of China and Indias Council of Scientific and Industrial Research have worked together since 2006 to study environmental change and oceanography. A joint workshop was held in 2006 between the two organizations, at which dozens of oceanographers, geophysicists, and climate scientists from India and China met to discuss monsoon-related ocean and land issues. This collaboration in science and technology shows no signs of slowing  the conference resulted in a plan for ten more joint proposals.

International cooperation to advance public health

Good health is fundamental for human well-being, and requires, among other things, the development and provision of basic medicines. Yet, while great strides have been made in biomedical science, millions die each year from treatable or curable diseases because they are unable to access lifesaving drugs. In an effort to redress this issue, five countries Brazil, Chile, France, Norway, and the United Kingdom joined forces in 2006 to expand access to essential medicines for the world s most impoverished.

The backbone of UNITAID, an international drug purchasing facility founded by these five nations, is its stable and sustainable funding source a tax on airfare purchases. The organization aims to use its purchasing power to negotiate lower prices, accelerate the distribution of new and existing medicines, and create incentives for the development of new treatments. The facilitys financial stability allows it to make long-term funding commitments and purchase medicines in bulk, both of which lower prices and drive greater production.

UNITAID targets the three main epidemic diseases HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria by addressing two of the greatest barriers to treatment. First, pharmaceutical companies have traditionally been reluctant to commit resources to research and development for diseases endemic to the developing world because there is little guarantee of returns on that investment. By providing a reliable buyer for such drugs, UNITAID aims to reverse this trend. In addition, patents on newly developed drugs often lead to prohibitively high prices. In July 2008, UNITAID announced a new initiative aimed at surmounting this barrier by establishing a voluntary patent pool. The pool is a repository of patents submitted by different pharmaceutical companies. These patents are available to manufacturers and researchers in exchange for a royalty payment. By providing broader access to patented information, this mechanism will allow the production of generic versions of medicines, dramatically lowering their cost, as well as facilitate additional research that could lead to more advanced treatments. The pool will also allow the development of combination therapies multiple drugs combined into one pill which are currently difficult to produce because they require patent negotiations with multiple companies.

The promise of UNITAID s purchasing power has prompted the development of nine new pediatric HIV medications. The organization has also leveraged price reductions of up to 60% for several key youth HIV treatments. By the agency s calculations, over two thirds of children currently receiving treatment for HIV have access because of UNITAIDs efforts. The impacts of the patent pool initiative remain to be seen, but proponents of increased access, such as Medecins Sans Frontires and the non-profit Essential Inventions, are optimistic about its prospects.