Ministers and officials from all countries will meet via video link on Monday for the annual world health assembly, which should be dominated by efforts to prevent rich countries from monopolizing drugs and future vaccines against Covid-19 .
As some countries buy drugs considered useful against the coronavirus, causing global shortages, and the Trump administration negotiates with vaccine companies to supply the US first, there is consternation between public health experts and activists who believe it is vital to come together to end the disease. pandemic.
While the USA and China clash, the EU has taken the lead. The leaders of Italy, France, Germany and Norway, along with the European commission and council, asked earlier this month that any innovative, therapeutic or vaccine tools be shared equally and fairly.
"If we can develop a vaccine that is produced by the world, for the whole world, this will be a unique global public good of the 21st century," they said in a statement.
The only resolution before this year's meeting is an EU proposal for a voluntary patent pool. Drug and vaccine companies would be under pressure to give up the monopoly that patents allow them in their inventions, which means that they can charge high prices, so that all countries can manufacture or buy affordable versions.
In the weeks of negotiations leading up to the meeting, which is scheduled to last less than a day, there was a dispute over the language of the resolution. Countries with large pharmaceutical companies argue that they need patents to guarantee prices high enough in rich countries to recover their research and development costs.
Even more difficult were attempts to reinforce existing rights in countries to break the patent and drug monopoly monopolies, if necessary, for the sake of public health. Twenty years ago, a tough battle against AIDS led to the World Trade Organization's Doha declaration on trade-related intellectual property (TRIPS) in favor of access to medicines for everyone except the US, which has some of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. world, strongly opposed words that encouraged the use of travel.
Activists say the resolution that must be passed by the 198 member states of the World Health Assembly is on the right track, but with a very weak word.
“In general, it is a disappointment, really terrifying. There was a better text that was rejected, ”said Jamie Love of Knowledge Ecology International. “The United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and a few others have put pressure on WHO to lead the search for open patent licensing and knowledge of medicines and vaccines.
“In a global crisis like this, which has such a huge impact on everyone, you would expect the WHO body to have the backbone to say that there are no monopolies in this pandemic. It is one thing for a country to use its economic influence to buy preferential access to medicines or vaccines. Another is to prevent others from manufacturing and expanding the global supply. "
Oxfam health policy manager Anna Marriott said: "This week letter asking for a person's vaccine, signed by more than 140 world leaders and experts, defines the level of ambition of scale necessary to face the challenge that lies ahead.
“As we approach the final stages of this resolution, we need to see ministers of health step up their game to match that ambition. Any government that tries to block or dilute this resolution is risking lives and getting on the wrong side of history. "
Costa Rica will launch a pool of voluntary patents later this month. Its president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, said in the World Health Organization last week: “The pandemic strikes the same in every country, regardless of whether you have the resources or not. It attacks people from all over the world in the same way.
“Only together with multilateralism, with this kind of leadership, can we defeat the coronavirus, not with nationalism and being selfish. It is time for solidarity. It is time to work together to show humanity the best we are made of, the opportunity to show our fellowship as a whole. "
Wellcome published a survey of 2,000 people in the UK on Sunday, which found that 96% supported the idea that national governments should work together to ensure that treatments and vaccines can be manufactured in as many countries as possible and distributed globally to everyone who needs them.
"We need vaccines and treatments that work for the world, and all advances must be available to all countries equally, without exception," said Alex Harris, head of global policy at Wellcome. "No country should consider reserving future vaccines and treatments for its use only."
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Associations (IFPMA), the industry's commercial body, says that companies already share their intellectual property with low-income countries. "We were not included in these discussions and we have a limited understanding of what exactly is being proposed, and how it is different from the various institutions that already facilitate data sharing, know-how" and intellectual property, he said in a statement.
"Sets of voluntary patents already exist and many companies are already exploring collaborations and voluntary licenses."
IFPMA also pointed out that it was already a founding partner of the ACT Accelerator, a global partnership designed to accelerate the research and development of promising and accessible interventions.
“The creation of yet another new platform seems unnecessary and would direct resources and energy away from the main objectives. We never need innovation as much as we do now, and this is probably the worst possible time to weaken intellectual property, ”he said.
Taiwan's invitation to the assembly, which has been blocked in recent years by China, has also sparked a dispute. Taiwan has a lot of support from countries, including the United States, that say the handling of Covid-19 was exemplary and that it could teach the world a lot. Beijing, however, is pressurize other countries to block Taiwan, arguing that it can only be represented if it accepts that it is part of China.