The domination of global medicine by major pharmaceutical companies needs to be confronted to provide fairer access to vaccines , said Mustaqeem De Gama, South Africa’s delegate at the World Trade Organization (WTO) on intellectual property rights.
“While Rome is burning, we are fiddling around,” said De Gama. “The first effective vaccines were ready four or five months ago. Do you think it would have made a difference if we had the capacity to manufacture? I certainly think so.” De Gama said more structural change was needed to enable countries to make their own vaccines instead of relying on terms set by donors or profit-driven companies. “The infrastructure right now is providing a minimum and leaving the rest to the private sector,” said De Gama. “I don’t think governments should be outsourcing their responsibility for public health to private companies who are responsible to shareholders only.”
Backed by dozens of developing countries, the proposal, introduced by South Africa and India, argued that by-passing intellectual property rights would allow more of the world’s population to be quickly vaccinated by boosting production.
Supplies are low after rich countries bought more vaccines than they needed to, leading to predictions that many low-income countries may not be able to reach mass immunisation until 2024.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) on Thursday called for urgent delivery of vaccines to lower-income countries in order to avoid further mutations of the coronavirus, such as the 501Y.V2 variant that has spread throughout southern Africa.