[Ip-health] Marisol Touraine and Precious Matsoso in Maverick Citizen: Covid-19: Treatments, but at what cost?

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sat Apr 11 09:09:16 PDT 2020



Covid-19: Treatments, but at what cost?

By Marisol Touraine and Malebona Precious Matsoso• 11 April 2020

A doctor wearing personal protective equipment places a saliva swab into a
test tube for analysis during coronavirus symptom tests. (Photo: Krisztian
Bocsi / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

At a time when the world’s richest countries are deploying their forces in
the battle against COVID-19, the pandemic is threatening Africa and some of
the world’s most vulnerable populations, the least able to protect
themselves. Confinement is not possible for those who need to leave their
homes just to survive. The poor living conditions – water, sanitation and
so on – structural weakness of health systems, and the lack of basic
equipment are so profound that governments are unlikely to be able to
address them.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has sounded the alarm. While we race
against time in our own countries, absorbing our resources and energy, we
must not forget the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Solidarity is first and foremost a moral duty. All of humanity is affected
today, and our prosperous societies would be wrong to abandon the most
vulnerable. This moral duty is also a practical one; in the face of a
global pandemic, only a global response can be sustainable. A disjointed
response would run the double risk of allowing the disease to migrate
further or to re-emerge.

Twenty years ago, the certainty that only a global effort could overcome
pandemics led to the creation of new organizations, which in recent weeks
have mobilized to confront COVID-19: Gavi, which specializes in vaccines,
is stepping up its campaigns; the Global Fund is enabling countries to use
up to five percent of approved grant funding to help protect and treat
vulnerable communities (about US$500 million is available for that
purpose); Unitaid, which promotes innovative projects that promote
equitable access to health care, is investing in diagnostics, treatment and
triage tools for respiratory diseases.

But we need to go further.

Traditional development assistance programmes, as indispensable as they
are, will not be enough. Initiatives are springing up, all of them useful.
We must prepare for the time when treatments and vaccines will become
available. But these treatments and vaccines must be accessible to all,
everywhere and at the same time.

This is an appeal to the international community.

We cannot wait for treatments to be available in high-income countries in
order to negotiate prices for the rest of the world, as happened in the
case of HIV. The exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call
for an exceptional response. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement
on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS, 1995),
including those recognized in the Doha Declaration (2001), already allow
countries to issue compulsory licences for treatments in the case of

We propose to go further.

We ask that governments and institutions currently financing or
contributing to the development of drugs, vaccines or technologies for
COVID-19 agree from the outset in their contracts with industry to the
sharing of intellectual property rights taking into account the urgency we
find ourselves in. We are talking about sharing, not giving up. In
practical terms, once public money is invested in the race to find
treatments for this pandemic that threatens the entire planet, states must
demand in return from the outset that companies give up their licences
without geographical limitations to a structure that would guarantee the
production of treatments that are effective and safe, and – in return for
public investment – at affordable prices, everywhere.

This is not a utopian dream.

Ten years ago, Unitaid created the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), which
allows pharmaceutical companies to license their rights on a voluntary
basis. This has enabled the production of generics that treat tens of
millions of people around the world. Thanks to the MPP, for example, an
annual treatment for HIV/AIDS costs less than US$70 in Africa, compared to
the US$10,000 it costs in Europe.

Back then we had to wait almost ten years between these medicines being
available in high-income countries and their arrival in less well-resourced
countries. In the face of COVID-19, we must act now to ensure that
everyone, everywhere, has access to treatment at the same time.

This would be a first. The shortage of several important health products
and equipment caused by COVID-19 has galvanized and encouraged both
governments and industry to cooperate and share technology, and enter into
agreements to cooperate and to enable an increase in manufacturing
capacity. Already countries including Germany, Chile, Australia and Canada
have passed resolutions allowing them to move in this direction.

South Africa itself adopted a policy on intellectual property in 2018 and
should prioritize enactment of legislation that allows for the use-all
policy tools needed to address urgent public health concerns. Some
companies have also said they are ready. The World Health Organization is
working to increase transparency of the more than 700 trials ongoing around
the world looking into COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

It is the entire international community that must commit itself and move
forward together, in a spirit of solidarity. We call on all the G20
governments and international institutions to make this commitment, along
with the World Health Organization. The world needs your dedication to
eradicate COVID-19, and to save lives in Europe and around the world. DM/MC

Marisol Touraine, Former French Minister of Health and Social Affairs, and
Chair of the Executive Board of Unitaid. Malebona Precious Matsoso,
Director of Health Regulatory Science Platform, Wits Health Consortium,
University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa; and Member of the
Executive Board of Unitaid.

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

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