By Tom Buis, Global Health Advocate at Wemos
Now more than ever is the time to advocate together for structural solutions to achieve equitable access to medical products. In the upcoming months, member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) will start the negotiations for the establishment of the so-called Pandemic Accord. To avoid repetition of mistakes made during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Accord must include provisions to ensure 1) transparency, 2) sharing of intellectual property, know-how and technology, and 3) conditions to public funding.
To significantly improve the global pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, WHO member states decided to establish a new international instrument, now called the Pandemic Accord. Wemos calls upon governments to make strengthening health systems the core objective of the Accord. Apart from equitable access to medical products, this entails ensuring a strong health workforce and adequate finance for health. In this blog, we focus on our recommendations for access to medical products.
Transparency is critical in the pursuit of equitable access to pharmaceutical products. Increased transparency on a wide range of topics, including R&D costs, net prices and contracts is not just a goal in itself. Increased transparency will lead to greater accountability of the private and public sector, but more importantly it will contribute to an improved power balance between governments and pharmaceutical companies, for example during purchasing negotiations. The Pandemic Accord should therefore include provisions and guidance to ensure transparency on the topics mentioned.
Sharing of Intellectual Property, Know-How and Technology
During the COVID-19 pandemic, intellectual property (IP) and limited sharing of know-how and technology proved to be an important driver of inequitable access to pharmaceutical products like vaccines and treatments. Bilateral licensing agreements and voluntary sharing mechanisms appeared to be insufficient. To enable the expansion of global production and increase self-sufficiency of low- and middle-income countries, the Pandemic Accord must prescribe WHO member states to 1) limit IP rights in pandemics, and 2) compel right holders to share know-how and technology.
Conditions to Public Funding
As a way to speed up the research and development of possible vaccines and treatments, the European Commission and EU member states invested large sums of money. Equitable access to pharmaceutical products could be improved if these investments come with strings attached, for instance with regards to transparency, price setting and mandatory technology transfer to third party manufacturers. The Pandemic Accord should set a guideline on how these conditions could look like and how they should be implemented by WHO member states.
The Pandemic Accord provides NGOs working on access to medicines with a great opportunity to remedy mistakes made by governments in the past. In order to achieve a meaningful Pandemic Accord, NGOs should urge their national governments and EU institutions to promote equitable access through increased transparency, IP reform and technology transfer and through attaching conditions to public funding. If we want to better prepare for and respond to pandemics, we need to unite and act now.
Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA.