Intellectual Property Monopolies Block Vaccine Access

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 2020 (IPS) – Just before the World Health Assembly (WHA), an 18 May open letter by world leaders and experts urged governments to ensure that all COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests are patent-free, fairly distributed and available to all, free of charge.


Pious promises
Leaders of Italy, France, Germany, Norway and the European Commission called for the vaccine to be “produced by the world, for the whole world” as a “global public good of the 21st century”, while China’s President Xi promised a vaccine developed by China would be a “global public good”.

Anis Chowdhury

The United Nations Secretary-General also insisted on access to all when available. The WHA unanimously agreed that vaccines, treatments and tests are global public goods, but was vague on the implications.

As COVID vaccines have become available, nearly 70 poor countries are left out. Many more people will be infected and may die without vaccinations, warns the People’s Vaccine Alliance, advocating equitable and low-cost access.

As the rich and powerful secure access, poor countries will leave out most people as only one in ten can be vaccinated in 2021, making a mockery of the Sustainable Development Goals’ over-arching principle of ‘leaving no one behind’.

Waiving WTO rules
The authors of “Want Vaccines Fast? Suspend Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) argue that IPR are the main stumbling block. Meanwhile, South Africa and India have proposed that the World Trade Organization (WTO) temporarily waive its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules limiting access to COVID-19 medicines, tools, equipment and vaccines.

The proposal – welcomed by the WHO Director-General and supported by nearly 100 governments and many civil society organisations around the world – goes beyond the Doha Declaration’s limited flexibilities for national emergencies and circumstances of extreme urgency.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

But Brazil, one of the worst hit countries, opposes the proposal, together with the US, the EU, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, Canada, Australia and Japan, insisting the Doha Declaration is sufficient.

The empire fights back
The US insists that IP protection is best to ensure “swift delivery” while the EU claims there is “no indication that IPR issues have been a genuine barrier … to COVID-19-related medicines and technologies” as the UK dismisses the proposal as “an extreme measure to address an unproven problem”.

The Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations Director-General claims it “would jeopardize future medical innovation, making us more vulnerable to other diseases”, while The Wall Street Journal denounced it as “A Global Covid Vaccine Heist”, warning “their effort would harm everyone, including the poor”.

Citing AstraZeneca’s agreement with the Serum Institute of India (SII) and Brazilian companies, other opponents assert that voluntary mechanisms should suffice, insisting the public-private COVAX initiative ensures fair and equitable access.

But the US has refused to join COVAX, part of the WHO-blessed, donor-funded Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), ostensibly committed to “equitable global access to innovative tools for COVID-19 for all”.

Intellectual property fraud
The Doha Declaration only covers patents, ignoring proprietary technology to safely manufacture vaccines. Meanwhile, there is not enough interest, let alone capacity among leading pharmaceutical companies to produce enough vaccines, safely and affordably, for everyone before 2024.

Despite the Doha Declaration, developing countries are still under great pressure from the EU and the US. The rules allowing ‘compulsory licensing’ are very restrictive, with countries required to separately negotiate contracts with companies for specific amounts, periods and purposes, deterring and thus often bypassing those with limited financial and legal capacities.

South Africa cited the examples of Regeneron and Eli Lilly, which have already committed most of their COVID-19 antibody cocktail drugs to the US. In India, Pfizer has legally blocked alternative pneumococcal vaccines from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). In South Korea, Pfizer has forced SK Bioscience to stop producing its pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV).

To be sure, patents are not necessary for innovation, with the Harvard Business Review showing IPR law actually stifling it. Meanwhile, The Economist has condemned patent trolling, which has reduced venture capital investment in start-ups and R&D spending, especially by small firms.

Public subsidies
Like most other life-saving drugs and vaccines, COVID-19 vaccines and treatment technologies owe much to public investment. Even the Trump administration provided US$10.5 billion to vaccine development companies.

Moderna’s vaccine emerged from a partnership with the National Institute of Health (NIH). Research at the NIH, Defence Department and federally funded university laboratories have been crucial for rapid US vaccine development.

Pfizer has received a US$455 million German government grant and nearly US$6 billion in US and EU purchase commitments. AstraZeneca received more than £84 million (US$111 million) from the UK government, and more than US$2 billion from the US and EU for research and via purchase orders.

But although public funding for most medicine and vaccine development is the norm, Big Pharma typically keeps the monopoly profits they enjoy from the IPR they retain.

Voluntary mechanisms inadequate
COVAX seeks to procure two billion vaccine doses, to be shared “equally” between rich and poor countries, but has only reserved 700,000 vaccine doses so far, while the poorest countries, with 1.7 billion people, cannot afford a single deal. Meanwhile, rich countries have secured six billion doses for themselves.

Thus, even if and when COVAX procures its targeted two billion vaccine doses, less than a billion will go to poor countries. If the vaccine requires two doses, as many – including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – assume, this will only be enough for less than half a billion people.

Meanwhile, ACT-A’s diagnostics work seeks to procure 500 million tests, only a small fraction of what is required. Even if fully financed, which is not the case, this is only a partial solution at best.

But with the massive funding shortfall, even these modest targets will not be reached. To date, only US$5 billion of the US$43 billion needed for poor countries in 2021 has been raised.

Profitable philanthropy
As of mid-October, while 18 generic pharmaceutical companies had signed up, not a single major drug company had joined WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to encourage industry contributions of IP, technologies and data to scale up worldwide sharing and production of all such needs.

Meanwhile, a few companies have ‘voluntarily’ given up some IPR, if only temporarily. Moderna has promised to license its COVID-19 related patents to other vaccine manufacturers, and not enforce its own patents. But their pledge is limited, allowing it to enforce its patents “post pandemic”, as defined by Moderna.

Besides profiting from licensing in the longer term, Moderna’s pledge will enable it to grow the new mRNA market its business is based on, by establishing and promoting a transformational drug therapy platform, yielding gains for years to come.

AstraZeneca has announced that its vaccine, researched at Oxford University, will be available at cost in some locations, but only until July 2021. Meanwhile, Eli Lilly has agreed, with the Gates Foundation, to supply – without demanding royalties from low- and middle-income countries – its (still experimental) COVID-19 antibody treatment, but did not specify how many doses.

Indeed, as Proudhon warned almost two centuries ago, ‘property is theft’.

  Source

Are We Going from San Francisco?

Armed Conflicts, Conferences, Democracy, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jun 30 2020 (IPS) – Seventy-five years ago, on 26 June 1945, before the Japanese surrender ending the Second World War, fifty nations gathered at San Francisco’s Opera House to sign the United Nations (UN) Charter.


UN Charter
Nations pledged “to practice tolerance and live together in peace …, and to ensure … that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples”.

Anis Chowdhury

They sought “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, … and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to … promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.

The Charter’s contents reflected some contradictions inherent in framing an international organization recognizing national sovereignty as its organizing principle, and various other compromises, often influenced by the convening host nation.

Although the conduct of Member States often falls short of the UN’s lofty goals, its Charter was nonetheless a monumental achievement, providing the foundation for a rules-based international order.

San Francisco Conference
Forty-six Allied countries, including the four sponsors – the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and China – were originally invited to the San Francisco Conference.

The conference itself invited four other States – the Byelorussian and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republics, newly-liberated Denmark and Argentina. Poland did not send a representative as its new government was still uncertain.

Of the fifty participating states, only four were African and nine Asian. Latin American countries, independent since the mid-19th century, were present and active in deliberations.

The Conference was not only one of the most significant international gatherings in history, but perhaps the longest ever. The two month long Conference was attended by 3,500 people, including 850 delegates, their advisers, staff and the secretariat, plus more than 2,500 from the media and other observers.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Conference opened on April 25, 1945 with great fanfare, despite the sudden death of its principal architect and presumed host, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on 12 April. The task of carrying on fell to his Vice-President Harry Truman who had become President.

Truman often quoted English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, carried in his wallet, bewildering colleagues, senators and staffers who doubted his commitment to international peace. Tennyson foresaw that nations, realizing they could destroy one another, might agree to form “the Parliament of Man”, to resolve disputes peacefully.

Clashes and compromises
Many serious differences of opinion triggered crises, even at the preparatory stage. For example, the Soviet Union proposed that all 16 Soviet republics should have UN membership to balance the influence of US allies: the US countered by proposing membership for all its 50 states!

A compromise was struck, allowing membership for the Soviet republics of Belarus and Ukraine; the Soviet Union then withdrew its opposition to Argentina, which had supported the Axis powers.

The most important deliberations concerned the UN Security Council (UNSC), initially composed of five permanent members (US, UK, USSR, China, France) and six elected members. The P5’s right to veto provoked a long and heated debate.

Others feared that when one of the P5 threatens the peace, the UNSC would be ineffectual. But the P5 collectively insisted that as the main responsibility for maintaining world peace would fall most heavily on them, the veto provision was vital.

Australia proposed that no permanent member should be allowed to veto when involved in a Chapter VII dispute over threats to peace. The US delegation blocked this and a Soviet proposal allowing P5 vetoes on procedural matters, e.g., discussion of disputes in which it may be involved.

While US officials saw the UN General Assembly (UNGA) primarily as a ‘talk shop’, the USSR tried to limit it from discussing sensitive political matters. However, recognizing its importance for legitimacy, the compromise reached permits the UNGA to discuss any issues “within the scope of the Charter”.

Colonialism was not supposed to be discussed at the Conference to avoid alienating the European imperial powers, whom the US needed to isolate the Soviet Union. But the handful of Asian and African countries attending wanted countries still under the colonial yoke to attain freedom and independence as soon as possible.

Although not on the original Conference agenda, after much debate, Chapters XI, XII and XIII provided some norms for colonial administration and pathways for decolonization. Nonetheless, these ambiguous, at best, pronouncements greatly disappointed anti-colonialists around the world.

US hegemonic from outset
Despite some compromises inherent in framing such an agreement, the UN Charter favoured the US. It promised to protect freedom of action and national sovereignty, as desired by the US, but contained no open-ended commitment to preserve other countries’ territorial integrity, like the League of Nations Covenant’s Article 10.

Article 2(7) placated American sovereigntists and nationalists, declaring: “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

The US and the UK also got what they wanted for existing and new regional and plurilateral arrangements, including defence and mutual assistance organizations.

Some US officials were concerned the UN might threaten the Monroe Doctrine privileging the US in the Western hemisphere, while limiting its ability to intervene elsewhere. Some clever drafting of Chapter VIII provided blanket endorsement to regional organizations, also seen as reflecting the principle of subsidiarity.

Article 51 enshrined the principle of “self-defense against armed attack, either individual or collective”. Although not fully appreciated in 1945, such provisions later helped legitimize various US and other post-colonial security pacts in Europe, Asia and the Americas against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Conference participants also considered a proposal for compulsory jurisdiction for a World Court, but the US Secretary of State recognized this would jeopardize Senate ratification. Delegates compromised, agreeing to let countries decide whether to accept the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s jurisdiction.

Unsurprisingly, the US has had an uneasy relationship with the ICJ from the outset, never submitting to its authority, and reacting negatively to Court decisions seen as adverse to the US.

From Truman to Trump
Presiding at the closing ceremony, Truman cautioned that the success of the new world body would depend on collective self-restraint. “We all have to recognize – no matter how great our strength – that we must deny ourselves the license to do as we please. This is the price each nation will have to pay for world peace.”

Truman is probably turning in his grave watching Trump’s jingoist ‘America First’ policy undermine the UN and multilateralism. Are multilateralism and the UN now doomed as Trump belies Tennyson’s hope and leads the US to up-end the Roosevelt-Truman legacy?

 

Kerala Covid-19 Response Model for Emulation

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 9 2020 (IPS) – Within weeks, the Covid-19 epidemic was classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an epidemic of international significance, triggering a pre-agreed WHO response. By the end of the first week of April, more than 1.3 million people had been confirmed as infected, with over 65,000 deaths across the world.


Anis Chowdhury

Many governments of developing, especially poor countries are unsure what to do, fearing the likely economic consequences of the ‘lockdowns’ increasingly adopted by Western economies. Indeed, lockdowns may shut down businesses relying on daily turnover and eliminate incomes for daily rated workers.

Meanwhile, most East Asian and some other governments have acted early to trace, test, isolate and treat the infected without lockdowns. Yet, most measures recommended have been criticized as beyond the means of the most vulnerable societies and populations.

Early action crucial
Early measures have required ‘physical distancing’ and other precautionary measures — at work, at home and in the community, at relatively low cost. People also need to be prepared to live differently for a long time to come as part of a ‘new normal’, at least until everyone can be effectively vaccinated.

‘All of government’ approaches are urgently needed everywhere to provide effective leadership to ‘whole of society’ efforts to contain the spread of viral infections. While this is no conventional war, only whole of society mobilization efforts can help mitigate major economic disruption and damage.

This should not only involve public health and police authorities, typically those empowered by draconian lockdowns. But repressive measures are unlikely to secure needed public support for effective enforcement and implementation, and adoption of needed behavioural and cultural changes.

Health authorities must provide publics with much better understanding of the threats faced and the rationale for policy responses to secure compliance. Public appreciation of the challenges involved is crucial for policy compliance and effective implementation.

Physical distancing, social solidarity
Kerala state in southwestern India, with a population of 35 million, has become “a model state in the fight against Covid-19”. Its Left Front-led government was among the first to introduce precautionary state-wide measures against the novel coronavirus threat.

Through appropriate and effective early actions, it has successfully slowed the spread of infection in the state, largely by promoting physical distancing and mainly sanitary precautionary, measures, and providing better protection for health staff well before the hugely disruptive and draconian lockdown imposed in India in late March.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The Kerala state government invited religious leaders, local bodies and civil society organizations to participate in policy design and implementation, considering its specific socio-economic conditions, including urban slum environments.

It has communicated effectively in different languages to educate all, including migrants, and to prevent stigmatization of those infected, even opposing the term ‘social distancing’, which has caste connotations, with ‘physical distancing and social solidarity’.

Returning migrants
Despite Kerala’s long-standing achievements in education, health and science, highly educated Keralans tend to migrate to work out of state, if not abroad, seeking more lucrative employment. The state was still recovering from the devastating floods and nipah virus epidemic of 2018 when tens of thousands began returning after losing jobs in the Middle East.

Kerala is also the destination for a large number of Indian internal migrants. With the nationwide lockdown, non-residents, equivalent to almost 5% of Kerala’s population, have returned, causing a surge of new infections.

Such unusually high movements of people have made the state more vulnerable. Despite some controversy, the state appears to have handled the migrant issue very well, especially compared to other state governments and the central government.

There has also been a close connection between Kerala and Wuhan, a popular educational hub offering affordable quality medical and other courses; the first three positive Covid-19 cases detected in India involved returned university students in Wuhan.

The state health department promptly went into action, setting up a coordination centre on 26 January. Recognizing there was no time to be lost, the Kerala state government set up mechanisms to identify, test, isolate and treat those infected, quickly earning an excellent reputation.

Less disruptive, less costly, more effective
Some key features of Kerala’s response, undertaken by a government with very limited fiscal resources, are hence instructive.

*All-of-government approach: involving a range of relevant state government ministries and agencies to design measures to improve consistency, coordination and communication, and to avoid confusion.

*Whole-of-society approach: wide community consultations, including experts, to find the most locally appropriate modes of limiting infections, along with means to monitor and enforce them.

*Social mobilization: communities were provided essential epidemiological information to understand the threat and related issues, ensure compliance with prescribed precautionary measures, and avoid panic.

*No one left behind: adequate supply of essential commodities, particularly food and medicines, has been ensured, especially to protect the most vulnerable sections of society.

To make things worse, Kerala has been discriminated against by the central government’s disaster relief fund on specious grounds. The largely agricultural state has modest fiscal resources of its own as state governments in India have limited fiscal rights and resources.

Credible leadership
The Kerala government has set up 18 committees and holds daily evening meetings to evaluate the situation, issuing media updates about those quarantined, tested and hospitalized .

At these meetings, the state Health Minister and Chief Minister calmly explain what is going on, including what the government is doing. They thus provide credible leadership on the difficult issues involved, securing strong public participation for its mass campaign of containment.

Kerala’s approach has proven less disruptive, less costly and more effective than most others. After recording its first COVID-19 case on January 30, its infection and death rates have been kept relatively low despite much more tracing and testing.

  Source