The expertise of the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that international locations of the International South can’t depend on the worldwide system or wealthy international locations within the International North to assist them by means of well being crises.
When Bolivia struck an agreement with Canadian producer Biolyse Pharma to supply it with COVID-19 vaccines for its individuals, the Canadian authorities didn’t take the mandatory measures wanted to greenlight the export.
When Uganda was attempting to buy doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, it was charged triple per dose that richer European international locations paid.
When India and South Africa led an alliance of most international locations on Earth on the World Commerce Group to alter its guidelines and permit COVID-19 vaccines to be produced wherever they may very well be, a small band of wealthy international locations, led by the US, the European Union and the UK, blocked them.
When the COVAX initiative was arrange by wealthy international locations and worldwide organisations, it promised to buy and distribute COVID-19 vaccines equitably throughout the globe, however it didn’t. Some rich international locations, like the UK, acquired important vaccine provides from COVAX, whereas poorer international locations had been left ready or needed to depend on vaccine donations, which, too usually, had been of doses nearing expiry.
At the moment, the coronavirus pandemic might have subsided, however the actual enemy of well being has survived: a patent system that retains medication recipes secret, a commerce system that permits companies to cost medicines out of attain, and a world governance system that retains the facility to alter any of this from poor international locations.
If we would like a greater worldwide well being system, we’re going to must construct it ourselves. With Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s victory in Brazil and the rise of recent progressive governments throughout the area, Latin America is well-poised to start this pressing work.
In my earlier roles as Ecuador’s well being minister and director of the Well being Institute on the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), I’ve seen prospects take form when international locations work collectively beneath the rules of fairness and social justice, sure by a standard imaginative and prescient, and with the facility to carry that imaginative and prescient to life.
To interrupt the present system’s energy and forge a brand new one, we have to problem it at 4 ranges: transparency, data, trade and governance.
First, we want collective pricing and buying. The first motive firms get away with arbitrary pricing of medicine is secrecy in commerce offers.
We will flip the tables by making a Medication Worth Financial institution and start to collectively buy medicines. We launched such a financial institution in 2016 once I was director of well being for UNASUR. It was a easy database of drug costs, made up of an preliminary record of 34 medicines. The 12 taking part international locations shared the costs they had been supplied by pharmaceutical firms – to, in flip, see the costs supplied to others.
Armed with comparative stats, governments efficiently drove down costs on the negotiating desk, enhancing entry to medicines for everybody within the area whereas difficult the secrecy constructed into large pharma contracts. On the time, UNASUR estimated that if all 12 international locations purchased vital portions of the 34 medicines listed on the lowest worth within the area, complete financial savings would quantity to about $1bn per year.
We may relaunch this worth financial institution and take it additional. As soon as now we have the value data in place, we may negotiate for collective buying, additional driving down costs with our bulk ordering. By collective buying, we will squeeze the inflated revenue margins of huge pharma and as an alternative flip that into more healthy lives for our peoples.
Second, we want shared capacities. Regulating new medication and vaccines isn’t simple. Regulatory infrastructure takes years to ascertain, from coaching expert technicians to constructing laboratories and establishing data sharing with regulatory businesses all over the world. The place one nation has a higher capability to control vaccines and coverings, they will lend these capacities to international locations that don’t – a easy system of solidarity that accelerates entry.
That is already taking place within the area. In the course of the pandemic, Mexico’s drug regulatory authority (COFEPRIS) supported the Paraguayan well being company to judge India’s Covaxin for emergency use approval, despite the fact that Mexico had no plans to make use of it. We will construct on this and arrange a region-wide mechanism.
Third, we have to set up and increase nationwide manufacturing. Inside months of scientists growing vaccines for COVID-19, wealthy international locations purchased up virtually all accessible and future doses, leaving little for the remainder of us.
Cuba was insulated from this failed system. It benefitted from a long time of funding in public healthcare and home pharmaceutical manufacturing, which meant that it was in a position to develop two homegrown vaccines — with efficacy charges of over 90 % – and swiftly begin immunising its inhabitants. It despatched its vaccines to different embargoed nations like Iran, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and signed agreements to collaborate on vaccine manufacturing with international locations like Vietnam and Argentina.
Home pharmaceutical manufacturing in Latin America is increasing. Argentina has a major manufacturing capacity with 190 factories and 40 public laboratories. Mexico plans to provide the nation’s personal COVID-19 vaccine candidate, Patria in its nationwide pharmaceutical firm Birmex. Brazil has a notable manufacturing capability and Colombia, too, is trying to increase.
By nationalising manufacturing and growing our personal industries, international locations of the International South can coordinate manufacturing and distribution, ensuring well being emergencies are tackled with the pursuits of our individuals in thoughts, not International North companies.
Lastly, we additionally want coordinated motion on the worldwide stage. From pushing for worldwide commerce reform to co-sponsoring resolutions, and submitting complaints collectively – we will be more practical by coordinating our actions.
After I was main the Well being Institute at UNASUR, we carved out an area for brand new types of collective motion inside the area, renegotiating the phrases of current well being insurance policies on the World Well being Meeting of the WHO. Between 2010 and 2016, 35 joint interventions had been carried out on the WHA on behalf of UNASUR international locations, on points akin to entry to medicines, well being as a basic human proper, WHO reform, sustainable growth targets, and others.
Equally, when tobacco firm Philip Morris tried to sue Uruguay for initiating anti-smoking laws, the Southern Frequent Market (MERCOSUR) managed to act as a bloc earlier than the Worldwide Centre for Settlement of Funding Disputes (ICSID) to point out their regional assist. ICSID ultimately ruled in Uruguay’s favour.
Performing as a bloc may assist different efforts to safe obligatory licences to provide COVID-19 vaccines and medicines in Chile, Colombia, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. Such licences, permitted inside WTO guidelines, enable governments to begin different manufacturing or importation of a generic model of a patented medical product with out the prior consent of the allow holder. That is what Bolivia wants from the Canadian authorities so it could possibly import 15 million doses of vaccine produced by Biolyse.
A progressive well being bloc with collective buying, regulatory capacities, drug manufacturing and distribution capacities, may exert strain to collectively obtain the proper to provide life-saving medicines.
These concepts for constructing a brand new international well being system from under may very well be put in place shortly and begin enhancing the lives of our individuals. Now’s the time to carry collectively progressive governments, in Latin America and additional afield, to finish large pharma monopolies, democratise pharmaceutical manufacturing, cut back drug costs, construct sturdy well being methods that increase the general public provision of well being providers, strengthen regulatory capability and uphold the proper to well being for all. We all know what must be achieved, now we have to carry collectively the collective energy to make it occur.
The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.