JOHANNESBURG (AP) – Governments around the world must “remove all barriers” to the rapid and fair distribution of any successful COVID-19 vaccine, including by making all intellectual property and technologies available immediately, African countries said Thursday.
The African Union’s call has been Africa’s most assertive call to date for a “people’s vaccine” available to all, even though wealthy countries such as the United States are entering into agreements with manufacturers for potential supplies.
The new African Union communiqué uses language that could make the pharmaceutical industry wary and specifically mentions the Doha Declaration on Public Health of World Trade Organization Members in 2001, which refers to the right to issue compulsory licenses.
“Mandatory licensing allows an authorized government agency to license the use of a proprietary invention to a third party or government agency without the patent holder’s permission,” said the World Health Organization.
The African communiqué, read after a continental conference on the search for COVID-19 vaccines, urges countries to “make full use of legal measures … to ensure that monopolies do not hinder access.” “It highlights the” barriers “that intellectual property has historically posed to affordable vaccines in developing countries.
The explanation comes as the coronavirus spreads quickly in Africa, with more than 337,000 confirmed cases.
However, pharmaceutical companies have claimed that they must protect their intellectual property to fund their expensive research. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization supports an access pool to COVID-19 technology where IP and data can be shared voluntarily.
African officials emphasize the shared approach.
Vaccine Alliance GAVI CEO Seth Berkley told the conference that “vaccine nationalism” is real, with initiatives in high-income countries “essentially trying to corner the market in those countries.”
“We see a number of rich countries making deals with pharmaceutical companies to get in line” and obtain potential vaccines, UNAIDS chief Winnie Byanyima told the conference. “It is not correct that those who have money stand in line while doctors and nurses die in Africa.”
She and others watched as it took years for Africa to have affordable HIV drugs that put a greater strain on the continent than anywhere else.
“Governments around the world must respond to this powerful appeal,” Zain Rizvi, a law and policy researcher on access to medicines at Washington-based consumer protection group Public Citizen, told The Associated Press in response to Africa’s request for all intellectual proprietary rights and technology readily available.
“No one should be left behind. We cannot repeat the tragic history of delayed access to HIV treatment in sub-Saharan Africa, which has cost millions of lives, “said Rizvi.
On Thursday, the billionaire who needed to accelerate Africa’s access to critical medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic said he should turn to China for kit testing after manufacturers in the West said the continent should wait months.
Strive Masiyiwa told the African Vaccination Conference that test kits were “available, but only for Western countries. … Abbott and they said, “Wait until September, wait until October.” So I didn’t waste time with them. I spent my time talking to the suppliers in China who wanted to deliver directly. ”
And so, Masiyiwa added, “if a vaccine is available in the West, but Africa has to wait a year to get it, I won’t be there, I’m going to talk to those people who make that vaccine available immediately. ”
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