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Necessary: ​​a community of countries to fight Covid-19 | Opinion – analysis


“A ring to rule them all, A ring to find them, A ring to bring them all and bind them in the dark.”

In JRR Tolkien’s story Lord of the Rings, a “Ring Community” was formed to destroy the unique ring and its evil powers. The community was made up of representatives of different races from Tolkien’s Middle Earth: Hobbits, Mages, Elves, Dwarves, and Men, who were united in their search, despite their differences. Tolkien’s remarkable story is about how they succeed acting together.

Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) is clearly the ring that unites humanity in its darkness. Unfortunately, however, there is no fellowship in sight. On the contrary, the dark powers of the ring seem to be dividing countries more than ever, with increasing protectionism and the decline of globalization.

The 73rd World Health Assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO), in its virtual meeting from May 18 to 19, adopted a resolution that recognized the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic and called for “equitable access and fair distribution of “all essential Health technologies and products to combat the virus. He also recognized that extensive immunization against Covid-19 is a “global public good”. Before the World Health Assembly, more than 140 world leaders and experts called for an unprecedented call for all vaccines, treatments and tests to be patent-free, mass-produced, fairly distributed and available to all. people, in all countries, for free. . However, the WHO assembly failed to reach a consensus to guarantee how this extensive global “good of immunization” will be achieved.

The WHO Assembly was preceded by a United Nations General Assembly resolution emphasizing the need for “equitable, efficient and timely” access to any future vaccines developed to combat the coronavirus, as well as a virtual meeting of countries in the G20 that emphasized the health and well-being of people. Well-being is at the heart of all decisions made to protect lives, fight disease, and strengthen global health security. However, none of these initiatives addressed how equitable access to drugs or vaccines can be achieved to address Covid-19.

India and the United States (USA) were nowhere to be seen at the virtual summit on May 4, co-organized by the European Union (EU), Great Britain, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Canada, South Africa and several other countries government organizations that collectively pledged $ 8 billion to research, manufacture and distribute possible vaccines and treatments for Covid-19. Geopolitical tensions between the United States and China threaten any coordinated multilateral response, as well as the continued existence of multilateral institutions that are central to a global effort to find a vaccine. President Donald Trump has announced a freeze on funds to the WHO, on allegations of mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic and bias towards China. There are also appeals in the US. USA To abolish the World Trade Organization (WTO), whose role in the application of trade rules has been rendered ineffective in any case by the actions of the United States. USA To sink the WTO appeal body. Operation Warp Speed ​​of the US government. USA (A partnership between private pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, and the military) focuses on the availability of a vaccine, but only for the US. While the Chinese biotech companies participate in similar efforts with their government and the Peoples Liberation Army.

The French and EU government’s outrage reportedly prompted French pharmaceutical company Sanofi to withdraw its plan to give the US. USA Priority access to your potential Covid-19 vaccine. Reports on the EU-backed May 4 virtual initiative cite EU officials who say that while pharmaceutical companies receiving funding will not be asked to relinquish Intellectual Property Rights over new vaccines and treatments, they must commit to making them available worldwide at affordable prices. However, this exhortatory statement fails in the absence of a definitive action plan necessary to address equitable access.

Who will be the owner, who will have access and on what terms, to the drugs and vaccines that are being developed, this is the core of any real and effective solution to tackle Covid-19. Patents, rights to test data and technical knowledge are important economic mechanisms to encourage innovation and the development of new technologies. However, in facing a pandemic of such large dimensions, there is a crucial need to balance private gains and the broader public good. In the mid-20th century, both inventors of polio vaccines, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, refused to patent their inventions, an act that guaranteed widespread access and near-eradication of polio worldwide. This was in stark contrast to one of the largest lawsuits in 1998, when 39 pharmaceutical companies sued South Africa, alleging patent violations as a result of the importation of AIDS drugs and other cheaper drugs. While public pressure led to the withdrawal of the lawsuit after three years, it exemplified the complexities and risks of significant litigation that can accompany any effort to implement affordable access to patented drugs.

Covid-19 needs an innovative solution, and this is necessary at the research and development stage and clinical trials, rather than something that can be addressed after finding a cure. The virus has united our globally interconnected world like no other, and the usefulness of any vaccine to combat it can be successful only if there is rapid universal access to the cure. That can only happen if governments around the world develop a pragmatic approach that recognizes and rewards innovators, while ensuring that access to innovation is held in trust for the benefit of humanity. We urgently need a community of countries that can fight possibly the greatest challenge of the 21st century.

RV Anuradha is a partner at Clarus Law Associates, New Delhi and specializes in international economic law.

The opinions expressed are personal.

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