Thirty-seven countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday called for joint ownership of vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tools to fight the global coronavirus pandemic, targeting patent laws which, they said that could become an obstacle to sharing essential supplies.
While the surge in most developing countries, called the COVID-19 technology access pool, has been welcomed by groups such as Doctors Without Borders, an alliance of the pharmaceutical industry has questioned whether efforts to pooling intellectual property would really expand access to medicines.
Developing and some small countries fear that the wealthy countries that inject resources into vaccine research – more than 100 are in the process of development – will make their way to the end of the queue, once ‘a candidate will succeed.
“Vaccines, tests, diagnostics, treatments and other key tools in responding to coronaviruses must be universally available as global public goods,” said Costa Rica president Carlos Alvarado.
The effort, originally proposed in March, aims to provide a one-stop shop for scientific knowledge, data and intellectual property in the midst of a pandemic that has infected more than 5.8 million people and killed more than 360 000.
WHO launched a “call to solidarity action”, asking other stakeholders to join the volunteer campaign.
“WHO recognizes the important role that patents play in stimulating innovation, but this is the time when people should have priority,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at an online press conference.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations has raised concerns about the reduction in intellectual property protection, which the group said is already enabling collaboration and will also be needed after the pandemic ends.
“The” call for solidarity action “promotes a unique model that does not take into account the specific circumstances of each situation, each product and each country,” said the federation.
Anna Marriott, head of health policy for anti-poverty group Oxfam, said the divide over how patents are managed illustrates how some regions could end up losing.
“The pharmaceutical industry’s attempt to reject the initiative of the World Health Organization suggests that it cares more about profits than about people’s health,” she said.