[Ip-health] Health Policy Watch: WHO Member States Agree On Draft Resolution For COVID-19 Response – Overriding US Objections to ‘Equitable Access’

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu May 14 04:48:28 PDT 2020


WHO Member States Agree On Draft Resolution For COVID-19 Response –
Overriding US Objections to ‘Equitable Access’

WHA73 14/05/2020 • Elaine Ruth Fletcher

World Health Organization member states reached initial agreement today on
a European Union-led draft resolution on global COVID-19 response to the
upcoming World Health Assembly – overriding US objections to language that
referred to “universal, timely and equitable access” to COVID-19 treatments
and vaccines.

The draft resolution to be submitted to the upcoming World Health Assembly
Monday, May 18, would help pave the way for coordinated planning by the
global health community to ensure wide and equitable access by people
worldwide to COVID-19 medicines and vaccines, according the  draft obtained
by* Health Policy Watch*

The agreement on a text submitted by the EU-led sponsor was reached after a
“silence period” in which any of the 194 member states can raise formal
objections expired at noon today. The silence period was extended last
night at the last minute while intensive bargaining with the US took place
over the draft, led by EU and 9 other co-sponsors.

But the text as submitted yesterday to member states remained unchanged. It
is co-sponsored by not only the entire  EU bloc,  but also Australia, the
United Kingdom, Zambia, and six other states

That latest iteration also includes pointed references to a voluntary
global “patent pool” for new COVID-19 treatments – building on an
initiative launched by the European Commission last month, which has so far
raised 7.4 billion Euros.

And in a modest  victory for medicines access advocates, the text also
refers explicitly to countries’ rights to entirely upend international
patent rules, and purchase or produce generic versions of treatments, when
there is an overriding public health need*.*

The so called flexibilities in “Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual
Property Rights (TRIPS),” are enshrined in a number of World Trade
Organization agreements. They allow countries to legally issue  licenses to
import or produce generic versions of patented pharma products, when urgent
health needs arise. But in reality, countries rarely resort to their use.

Countries have been meeting daily in private, virtual sessions, for several
weeks, since the EU first announced its initiative to bring the world
together around a potentially far-reaching resolution entitled “COVID-19
Response” at the two-day World Health Assembly, 18-19 May.

The key elements of the plan that had been opposed by the United States
were contained in a paragraph that asks member states and WHO to work

“… the universal, timely and equitable access to and fair distribution  of
all quality, safe, efficacious and affordable essential health technologies
and products including their components and precursors required in the
response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a global priority, and the urgent
removal of unjustified obstacles thereto; consistent with the provisions of
relevant international treaties including the provisions of the TRIPS
agreement and the flexibilities as confirmed by the Doha Declaration on the
TRIPS Agreement and Public Health (OP4);”

As one source, who asked to remain anonymous, said “They wanted to delete
universal, timely and equitable access. This was key, but there was push
back by Europeans and other countries, particularly, on that. The source
cautioned that the US position might not be entirely attributable to the
“me first” policies of US President Donald Trump.  “I wouldnt want to make
it too much of  it as a Trump thing.  A Democrat like Obama or Biden, might
have acted similarly. They are very careful about what they commit to, I
think they would have hesitation about something that they coudn’t match up

In fact, a political storm was already gathering in France after the
Paris-based Sanofi announced that the first doses of any COVID-19 vaccine
that is produces, now in development,had been pre-ordered to the United

“The US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s
invested in taking the risk,” Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson told Bloomberg News
an interview published on Wednesday. “That’s how it will be because they’ve
invested to try and protect their population, to restart their economy,” he
said, noting that the U.S., which expanded a vaccine partnership with the
company in February, expects “that if we’ve helped you manufacture the
doses at risk, we expect to get the doses first…” The multinational has
offices and research facilities in the United States as well as France.

Hudson said that he had warned European officials that they needed to step
up vaccine investments as well: “I’ve been campaigning in Europe to say the
US will get vaccines first. “That’s how it will be because they’ve invested
to try and protect their population, to restart their economy.”

French officials expressed outrage over the Sanofi remarks: “For us, it
would be unacceptable for there to be privileged access to such and such a
country for financial reasons,” France’s deputy finance minister Agnes
Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio Thursday.
She and other officials note that the Paris-based Sanofi has also received
tens of millions of Euros in research credits from the French government in
recent years.

The cross-Atlantic diplomatic brouhaha, involving just one multinational
pharma firm, serves to illustrate just how complex the lofty ambition of
equitable access really is, when validated treatments or vaccines really do
become available.

For more details on the issues at stake in the EU draft resolution see the
Health Policy Watch analysis:

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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