How Corporations Are Choosing Profits Over Life With COVID19 Medications
As COVID-19 cases continue to climb worldwide, and millions of lives are at stake. This global health crisis is increasing the inequality of access to prevention and treatment, particularly among marginalised populations. The use of price gouging and archaic intellectual property laws by pharmaceutical corporations is placing profits over health.
MSF doctors call on world governments to urgently address gaps for medical products. Due to monopolies, there is now a global shortage of medicines needed to combat COVID-19 and what is available is extremely expensive. According to Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head, MSF Access Campaign, "In India I have witnessed people struggle to access oxygen and medicines. In India in April this year I first hand witnessed shortages of tocilizumab needed for severe COVID-19 and liposomal amphotericin B for mucormycosis."
Combating pharmaceutical monopolies
Even during a global pandemic, wealthy governments continue to allow monopoly-holding corporations to control prices and decide where lifesaving medical products are to be produced, registered, and supplied. The corporations make the decisions not based on need but profit. So far only 1% of people in low-income countries have received a dose of COVID-19 vaccines.
What's gone wrong
A number of proposals that may be helpful are stalled by inaction or lack of will. The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations cynically rejects life-saving voluntary sharing initiatives like WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. Members of IFPMA favour bilateral deals to avoid disclosing terms and conditions, and FOI requests are met with redacted agreements that undermine transparency and accountability.
WHO’s mRNA vaccine technology transfer hub could expand the production and supply of mRNA vaccines for COVID-19, especially in low- and middle-income countries. This could save thousands if not millions of lives yet BioNTech, Pfizer, and Moderna, makers of WHO-approved mRNA vaccines, have not participated. MSF recommends that governments, especially Germany and the US that fund and host major biopharmaceutical developers must use their influence to push companies to participate in the WHO mRNA hub.
What is the TRIPS waiver and why is it important?
The World Trade Organization (WTO) TRIPS waiver is a critical policy proposal to remove legal barriers to increase production and supply of COVID-19 medical products including much needed drugs for treatment.
Europe's profit over health
The European Union, the UK, and Switzerland, continue to delay negotiations of the TRIPS waiver. The European Union put forward a particularly harmful proposal that does not address the capitalist limitations of current WTO rules.
India used compulsory licensing to reduce the price of a patented cancer drug that had been exorbitantly expensive, it was massively criticized and the Bayer CEO’s reacted by infamously saying that the company did not develop the cancer medicine for Indians. This was the perfect example of everything that is wrong with the current for-profit medical industry and the way life-saving medications including for COVID-19 are developed.
It is now more than ever clear that pharmaceutical corporations are not here to save lives but gatekeep life-saving medication with exuberant prices and intellectual property laws. Life saving medications are being reserved for the wealthiest while those with less are being left to die.
Big Pharma's death sentence
The CEOs of pharma corporations attributed the speedy development of COVID-19 vaccines to the IP system, disregarding the contribution of public funding (paid by everyones taxes), people’s volunteering in clinical trials (risking their lives) and regulatory support (by professionals focused on saving lives). Millions of people are still waiting to benefit from the important medical innovations of the past year and half. Thanks to profiteering corporate leeches and the archaic intellectual property laws millions of poor people are being sentenced to death.