When governments don’t stand up to Big Pharma, disaster ensues. Twenty years ago, millions of poor people in sub Saharan Africa were dying preventable deaths from AIDS because of pharma’s price gouging. International shame and pressure brought Big Pharma to its knees. Today, the same companies are claiming that the system that has delivered us deadly profiteering will magically deliver equitable access around the world in the face of COVID-19. It is time for world leaders to wake up, and take action. If not now, when?
Today’s WHO Solidarity Call to Action to support the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool – a mechanism that would support pooling of intellectual property, data and trade secrets in a voluntary “pool” that could be used to license multiple producers of COVID-19 health products to supply countries all around the world – is exposing the hypocrisy of Big Pharma and its allies who say they will make life-saving COVID-19 therapeutics, vaccines, and tests accessible to all but instead auspiciously sit out global solidarity efforts in order to protect their right to profiteer.
IFPMA and multiple Big Pharma executives have criticized the Call for Action saying it goes too far in asking that highly subsidized companies relinquish their monopoly protections to ensure an effective response to the pandemic. Leaders of CEPI, the convener of the “Vaccines” pillar of the ACT Accelerator, also said the pool was “unnecessary.”
It’s clear that hortatory voluntary measures alone won’t be enough – and will let Big Pharma off the hook while people around the world die in service to pharma greed. Government funders and charities like the Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust investing billions of euros must demand that (1) all data and research findings be made public, (2) all exclusive rights (patents, data protections, manufacturing know-how, trade secrets, software, cell lines and other biological materials) be licensed to the new WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool on terms that allow open licensing to other qualified manufacturers, and (3) that resulting supplies will be distributed equitably worldwide to meet epidemiological need. In addition, activists globally and low- and middle-income countries must pressure Big Pharma and rich countries to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 health products instead of allowing an unregulated market to prioritize nationalistic hoarding by the U.S. and other rich countries.
There is a right side and a wrong side. Either you support compelling pharma to prioritize genuine access, or you are comfortable with a status quo that will condemn countless people to preventable death. We expect our leaders to make a choice – now.