Thursday, October 28

South Africa Leads Backlash Against Big Pharma Over Access to Covid Vaccine | Global development

The dominance of world medicine by major pharmaceutical companies must be addressed to provide fairer access to vaccines, said a leading South African official.

The Covid vaccine dispute should alert rich countries to the power of for-profit companies that control the production of crucial drugs, said Mustaqeem De Gama, South Africa’s delegate to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on drug rights. intellectual property.

“While Rome burns, we play [waiting]”Said De Gama, who asked the nations where many of these pharmaceutical companies are located to stop blocking a patent exemption proposed in the WTO.

Backed by dozens of developing countries, the proposal, put forward by South Africa and India, argued that circumventing intellectual property rights would allow more of the world’s population to get vaccinated quickly by boosting production.

“The first effective vaccines were ready four or five months ago. Do you think it would have made a difference if we had the ability to manufacture? I certainly think so. “

Supplies are low after rich countries bought more vaccines than they needed, leading to predictions that many low-income countries will not be able to achieve mass immunization until 2024.

Some vaccines are being provided to low- and middle-income countries through donations, largely through the Gavi-led Covax initiative, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership. But many argue that donations are too scarce and rely on stocks that rich countries don’t use.

De Gama said more structural changes are needed to allow countries to make their own vaccines rather than relying on terms set by donors or for-profit companies.

“The infrastructure right now is providing a bare minimum and leaving the rest to the private sector,” De Gama said. “I don’t think governments should outsource their public health responsibility to private companies that are accountable solely to shareholders.”

He said the recent sale of AstraZeneca vaccines to South Africa at double the price paid by European countries was evidence of the need for greater transparency in the way decisions on supplies and prices are made.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called on Thursday for urgent delivery of vaccines to low-income countries to prevent new coronavirus mutations, such as the 501Y.V2 variant that has spread across southern Africa since it was identified in December.

Prominent South African businesswoman Yamkela Makupula said many were angry that they were unable to access vaccines while hospitals and the economy were suffering, hit by the wave of Covid-19 linked to the new variant.

A woman wears a mask to protect against the coronavirus, Cape Town, South Africa
A woman wears a mask to protect herself against the coronavirus in Cape Town, South Africa. Photograph: Nardus Engelbrecht / AP

“Most countries around the world are facing a recession while dealing with the effects of the pandemic. Therefore, vaccinating only one part of the world and leaving the rest to fend for itself with only limited resources is a very flawed strategy, “he said.

“There are no number of economic recovery strategies that can save South Africa where it is now. What is imperative is to vaccinate our people to not only rebuild the economy, but also to save lives. “

Shehnaaz Peer, a GP in the Eastern Cape province, said the vaccine “really translates to hope” after seeing an increase in cases, more patients with prolonged Covid symptoms, and greater mental health challenges, especially among the youths.

Roz Scourse, a policy advisor at MSF Access, said the EU had been “hypocritical” in its recent outrage over the undelivered AstraZeneca vaccines by blocking the proposed patent exemption, along with other countries that are home to large pharmaceutical companies, including the United Kingdom. United.

“This really shows the EU and other rich countries what happens when all rights and control of the manufacture and distribution of Covid vaccines in times of a pandemic are ceded to large multinational corporations,” Scourse said.

Zain Rizvi, who works on access to medicine at the US-based advocacy group Public Citizen, said governments should have demanded more open access from drug companies because much of the funding for research and Initial development came from public funds.

“Rich countries had tremendous influence when they were funding these organizations,” he said. “I cannot stress enough how outrageous it is that there is a shortage of vaccines when there is capacity there. He is morally bankrupt. “

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