View: Global leadership needed to push pharma solutions and distribute them at affordable prices

By Ujal Singh Bhatia Global pandemics like Covid-19 require a coordinated global response. And yet what the world is witnessing is quite the opposite. The pandemic has provided new fuel to the US-China squabble, with the two sides engaged in endless mutual recrimination. President Donald Trump’s reported attempt to secure […]

By Ujal Singh Bhatia


Global pandemics like Covid-19 require a coordinated global response. And yet what the world is witnessing is quite the opposite. The pandemic has provided new fuel to the US-China squabble, with the two sides engaged in endless mutual recrimination. President Donald Trump’s reported attempt to secure exclusive rights to German biopharma major CureVac’s vaccine reflects a continuing preoccupation with his ‘America First’ approach. China’s authoritarian model and lack of transparency in handling the crisis have dented its global leadership credentials.

The G7 meeting last month failed to agree on a statement on the pandemic, accentuating the group’s continuing slide into irrelevance. The G20 Leaders Summit on March 26 called for “a transparent, robust, coordinated, large scale and science based global response in the spirit of solidarity”. However, the ground reality is that more than 75 countries have imposed trade restrictions on Covid-19 related supplies since the beginning of the year.

Absence of global coordination is clearly hobbling the world’s response to the crisis. In an interconnected world where pandemics know no borders, can the world really deal with this crisis only through fragmented, national responses?

It is important to avoid binaries in answering this question. It is natural, even necessary, for governments to focus on enhancing national capacities and encouraging local production. In India, the crisis has exposed vulnerabilities in key areas like protective equipment, diagnostics and critical pharmaceutical inputs. The dependence of Indian drug makers on Chinese APIs has raised concerns about disruptions in supply of essential medicines. These vulnerabilities will need to be addressed through appropriate industrial policy tools. At the same time, the importance of global supply chains in producing and distributing these products around the world must not be undermined.

There are three dimensions of the concerted global action required: the free movement of medical supplies and services around the world; the development of necessary medical interventions involving diagnostics, drugs and vaccines; and their mass production and distribution around the world at affordable prices.

The problems related to the first dimension are well known. On April 3, the WSJ, quoting German officials, reported that a shipment of face masks destined for Germany was seized at Bangkok airport and diverted to the US in an act of “modern piracy”. Similar seizures and diversions were reported in other countries.

Work on the second dimension accelerated after Chinese scientists provided the sequence of the Covid-19 genome. More than 100 drug treatments and vaccines are in development worldwide, including at least 70 candidate vaccines, three of which are under clinical evaluation. More than 250 clinical trials, including the WHO led Solidarity trial, are underway.

Once medical treatments are developed and validated, the issue of their mass production and distribution will need to be addressed. This will require action on two fronts, both of which require collaborative arrangements between governments, international organisations and private firms. The first concerns the technology and resources required for scaling up production, for which organisations like GAVI, CEPI, and the Gates Foundation will need to work with WHO and governments. The second concerns intellectual property rights, which could involve different approaches: issuance of compulsory licences by governments; the voluntary waiver of exclusive rights, either individually, or by joining a pool of rights; and international arrangements for purchase from manufacturers for distribution and supply around the world at affordable prices.

We have already witnessed some action on the IPR front. A number of countries like Israel, Germany, Canada, Australia, Chile and Ecuador have either issued compulsory licences, or have made regulatory changes to facilitate their issuance. Costa Rica has proposed creation of a pool of rights in WHO for technology and data necessary for combating the pandemic. Inputs for such a pool could come from governments, research institutions, private companies and individuals. The pool could enable rapid expansion of production of medical treatments while ensuring their affordability. The EU has also made a similar proposal.

The world now needs determined political leadership to pull all these strands together into a comprehensive global programme of action. WHO has come under much criticism for its handling of the crisis. However, recognition of its limitations must not blind us to its apex role in leading the global response. President Trump’s decision to withhold funding from WHO makes the task of global leadership even more daunting. But that challenge must be met. The 73rd World Health Assembly, scheduled for next month, provides an opportunity for finalising a comprehensive programme. But the existential threat the pandemic poses is too serious to be left to WHO alone. The entire UN system and other international bodies like WTO and WIPO must be mobilised to act in concert. The G20 will need to demonstrate that it is more than a talk shop of noble intentions.

The pandemic has revealed that even the richest countries with sophisticated health systems are not immune to its depredations. As infection rates peak in the West in the coming weeks, the focus will shift to the much larger challenges faced by the poorer countries. The virus cannot be defeated unless it is defeated in all countries.

Given its large, vulnerable population, India has a huge stake in a unified global response to the crisis. It is also in a unique position to contribute to such an initiative. Its substantial R&D capabilities, large pool of skilled health workers and established role as the “pharmacy of the world” are acknowledged around the world. Indian leadership at this critical juncture will not only help in addressing the needs of its own population, but will also provide succour for the poor around the world.

(The writer is a former Ambassador of India to the WTO)

Source Article

Lois C. Ferrara

Next Post

india gdp growth: Fitch Solution cuts India's FY21 GDP growth forecast to 1.8%

Mon Apr 20 , 2020
NEW DELHI: Fitch Solutions on Monday cut India’s economic growth forecast for the financial year 2020-21 to 1.8 per cent saying private consumption is likely to contract due to large-scale loss of income in the face of worsening domestic outbreak of COVID-19. “Over the past week, we have continued to […]

Tags

TL