People Before Profits: How they play with our lives-Hard lessons from COVID-19 Vaccine wars.
Since the advent of COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a quest to manufacture vaccines with a primary motive of preventing the spread of the virus. While these efforts should be applauded, they are unfolding in a world where there is increased commercialization of health, and where the current Intellectual Property (IP) system privileges the rich corporations and Nations at the cost of the lives of the poor. Under the current dispensation, health has become a commodity, tradable in the marketplace to the highest bidder, that the institutions of global governance including the World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Health Organization (WHO) are being portrayed as creations of an asymmetrical world dominated by the big pharmaceutical oligopolies in early industrialized Nations of the global North.
Therefore at the onset of the search for the COVID-19 Vaccines, it was evident that in the present capitalist system, access to the eventual COVID-19 vaccines, especially by the poor people, especially those of the poor economies would be problematic. Sensing this, the WHO in partnership with the Government of Costa Rica and 40 Member State co-sponsors launched the WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) whose major aim was to call on the global community to voluntarily share knowledge, intellectual property and data necessary for COVID-19. This would provide a means to accelerate the development of products needed to fight COVID-19 as well as to accelerate the scale-up of manufacturing and the removal of barriers to access in order to make products available globally. Whereas some pharmaceutical companies like Moderna have, along this framework, announced that it will allow open access to patents for the “pandemic period,” and is willing to out-license the same intellectual property once the pandemic is over, others like Pfizer and AstraZeneca have not. It can therefore be argued that the latter companies are bent on making a killing from the sale of the much sought after COVID-19 vaccines.
Even at global policy level, the terrain of access to COVID-19 vaccines has rather been disappointingly rough. Whereas more than two-thirds of the World Trade Organization’s 164 members have issued a clarion call to support the proposed temporary TRIPS waiver to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by ramping up production of diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines to ensure equitable and affordable access worldwide, major developed countries – the United States, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, and Australia – continued to adopt “diversionary” tactics to challenge this, as they remain largely opposed to the proposal.
By sticking to stringent TRIPS provisions, the “non-aligned” WTO Members are perpetuating an intellectual property regime that violates all principles of natural justice as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, under SDG 3, UN Member States committed to achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all. Specifically, they commit to provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all. One can therefore objectively conclude that the current objection to a COVID-19 related TRIPS waiver by the developed countries violates this commitment, that instead of committing to “leave no one behind”, the “non-aligned” countries will leave billions of poor people unable to meet the expensive cost of COVID-A9 vaccines.
A number of lessons can be drawn from the current state of play on TRIPS waiver discussions. It can be deduced that Internationalization of public health demands investing in public healthcare systems that put people’s health before private wealth and ensure that international solidarity translates to global standards of health and access to healthcare. Indeed, it is only human that the whole world should come together and unite its efforts to defeat the challenge that is our principal common enemy-COVID-19. On human rights grounds, it is poor ethics that COVID-19 vaccines and other essential lifesaving medicines are being subject to commercialization and profit, rather than being free of charge. CPVID-19 vaccine diplomacy requires the entire world to strive to protect our people, create and manufacture vaccinations and give them free people, rather than profit from them. It is therefore important that we decolonize the “marketization” of would be public goods so as to ensure that no one is left behind access to COVID-19 vaccine.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the extent to which pharmaceutical companies limit access to lifesaving medicines and profit from the public health crisis, benefiting from billions of euros in public subsidies without having to forgo intellectual property rights. Medicines and medical devices are not a consumer good like any other; and patients’ lives cannot be measured in purely economic terms. Both are an essential public good and a core element of health policy. Since the first months of the pandemic, lawmakers and activists have urged members of WTO to use the Trade Related Aspects of the Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver to gain access to potential vaccines and drugs against the new coronavirus for everybody.
Join our campaign using the hashtag, #TRIPSWaiverNow