Access to medical supplies and devices — the lesser known story of COVID-19 and medical monopoly
By Salimah Valiani
Discussions around access to potential vaccines for COVID-19 are widespread, particularly in the global South. Much less discussed is the lack of access to already existing medical technology crucial to stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus and assisting its most severely affected victims. The latter is the outcome of the monopoly control of medical technology — a phenomenon stretching at least as long as the monopoly of Big PHARMA — though much less understood.
Today the judicial authority may be faced with balancing patent rights and patients’ rights or right to life. It shall use all the tools at its command and innovate if necessary, but shall rule in favour of life.
Digital Transformation: Prioritizing Data Localization
By Bilal Zaka
After years of rather stable and predictable growth of telecommunications and software systems, the last decade has witnessed a tremendous shift towards unpredictable and disruptive innovations in every field of life. Today, we are experiencing the true social, political, financial and cultural effects of what is termed as globalization, deregulation, liberalization and convergence. Some major factors influencing this change are proliferation of mobile devices, ubiquitous wireless access to internet and increasing interventions of online or internet-driven technologies. While this digital transformation is inevitable, it is imperative that we equip ourselves to handle the negative implications of external influence caused by foreign dependencies and the non-regulatory nature of the new information ecosystem.
Digital Sequence Information (DSI) and national measures: approaches and perspectives
By Jorge Cabrera Medaglia
Digital sequence information (DSI, or genetic sequence data) is an emerging aspect of synthetic biology which involves certain functional genetic sequences being shared by different means. The genetic sequences from plants, animals or micro-organisms could be used to support conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, to develop and commercialize new products and processes, or for other purposes. The regulation of the use of DSI for both commercial and non-commercial entities may have huge implications for the access and benefit-sharing (ABS) regimen established in the international instruments, ongoing processes and regional and national legislation that implement these conventions. International guidance is needed to promote a coordinated approach to secure fair and equitable sharing of benefits while avoiding a negative impact on the non-commercial benefits arising from the genetic data.
The Covid-19 Pandemic and Liability under Investment Treaties
By Muthucumaraswamy Sornarajah
COVID-19 can increase liability for countries under international investment treaties. Professor M. Sornarajah, Emeritus Professor at the National University of Singapore, discusses in this SouthViews the imminent challenges faced under such treaties by developing countries. The text isbased on his presentation at the South Centre webinar on “Responsible Investment for Development and Human Rights: Assessing Different Mechanisms to Face Possible Investor-State Disputes from COVID-19 Related Measures” held on 30th July 2020. The recording of the webinar is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXPswKuywvA
Coronavirus pandemic: the vaccine as exit strategy
A GLOBAL HURDLE RACE AGAINST TIME WITH A SPLIT JURY
By Francisco Colman Sercovich
Sars-CoV-2, a novel pathogen, submits a stern warning, a clarion call, on the huge human costs of shortsightedness, inaction and lessons lost in the face of common predicaments at the global level. Yet, a number of key actors remain oblivious, including ethically-challenged politicians seeking to elbow their way to the front of the queue at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable nations and communities. Contrary to expectations being formed, a safe and effective vaccine for the Covid-19 strain once, if ever, attained, is the best way out but unlikely to do as a silver bullet in the midst of the complexities and unknowns at play.
As a result of the harmful impact of the pandemic and ensuing policy aftermath, the world runs the risk of squandering the gains barely made in the fight against poverty over the last few decades – a looming scenario of egregious global governance failure, in view of the eight close calls recently received (three flu epidemics or near-flu epidemics, two Sars episodes, one Mers episode, Zika & Ebola). A promptly and universally distributed vaccine promises to prevent future disease outbreaks. However, many scientific, economic and distributional hurdles stand in the way. Whilst each day counts, the survival of hundreds of millions of lives hangs in the balance as health issues and those pertaining to livelihoods, nutrition, schooling and deprivation are so closely interdependent. Can we rule out the need to resort to internationally sanctioned legal remedies as an inescapable response?
Lessons from COVID-19: Pharmaceutical Production as a Strategic Goal
By Dr. Carlos M. Correa
As often said, major crises bring about challenges but also opportunities. The strategic importance of a local pharmaceutical industry has been growingly recognized as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Developing countries should take advantage of this opportunity to strengthen their pharmaceutical industry, including biological medicines. Industrial policies would need to be reformulated under an integrated approach so as to expand value added & create jobs while addressing public health needs. South-South cooperation may also play an important role in increasing the contribution of developing countries to the global production of pharmaceuticals.
The weakness of multilateral cooperation was evident at the meetings of the Group of 20 and the Bretton Woods institutions in Washington. The limited international cooperation contrasts with the ambitious domestic policies adopted by some developed countries, and in particular the United States, to manage their crisis. The big losers will be the emerging countries, for whom cooperation has so far been minimal.
Making Covid-19 Medical Products Affordable: Voluntary Patent Pool and TRIPS Flexibilities
By Sudip Chaudhuri
The proposal of Costa Rica to create a voluntary pool mechanism for medical products and technologies for COVID-19 has evoked huge interest and optimism. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Costa Rica have followed it up through a Solidarity Call emphasizing the need for voluntary licensing on non-exclusive basis to the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). The success of a voluntary pool critically depends on the willingness of the patentees to join the pool. In a public health crisis, boundaries of public policy must not be determined by the patentees. MPP will work much better if the patentees are compelled or induced to join the pool. International cooperation is important in this regard. Highlighting the virtues of voluntary measures and promoting MPP without adequate emphasis on the use of compulsory licensing and other TRIPS flexibilities, actually weakens the MPP. In the light of the experience of MPP, the basic objective of this paper is to analyze to what extent voluntary pool mechanisms can be relied upon to make COVID-19 medical products affordable and accessible. It is important to appreciate the achievements of MPP. But the constraints under which it operates, and its limitations must also be kept in mind.
COVID-19 Economy vs. Human Rights: A Misleading Dichotomy
By Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky
While COVID-19 is a threat to the rights to life and health, the human rights impact of the crisis goes well beyond medical and public health concerns. The health crisis itself and a number of state measures to contain it-—mainly isolation and quarantine-—are leading the world into an economic recession. States and others need to take preventive and mitigating measures urgently to contain the pandemic and these must entail global cooperation and coordination. Just as the health crisis response must be rooted in human rights law, so too must national and international responses to the drastic economic downturn.
COVID-19 Crisis and Developing Countries: Digital Health Perspective
By Ambassador Fauzia Nasreen, Dr. Azeema Fareed, Ms. Huma Balouch
Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS)
Technology and Innovation are quintessentially relevant especially in dealing with the multiple threats posed by COVID-19. Most developing countries are already under tremendous stress because of financial constraints, enormous development challenges and technology innovation and knowledge deficiencies. COVID-19 which has disrupted every walk of life is having a multiplier effect on many countries, posing difficult governance choices. Reform and reorientation of the health system and structure is fundamentally important in dealing with the public health issues in the post COVID-19 period, and digital health could help in providing solutions.
The post-Covid world requires a new social contract. The United Nations Secretary-General should convene a World Conference on Post-Covid Recovery based on multilateralism and international solidarity. This entails a paradigm shift in the prevailing economic, trade and social models. Governments bear responsibility for their unwise and inequitable budgetary allocations, which prioritized military expenditures over investment in health, education and people-centered infrastructures. A new functional paradigm on human rights should discard the skewed and artificial division of rights into those of the first, second and third generations and impose new categories of enabling rights, inherent rights, procedural rights and end rights so as to ensure human dignity and development for all.