Urgent need to ensure developing countries have fair access to influenza anti-virals and vaccines

The current outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) outbreak has again highlighted concerns that people in developing countries will have little or inadequate access to much needed influenza vaccines or anti-viral treatments. Thus, there is an urgent need for establishing a global system of fair and equitable system for the sharing of the flu vaccines as well as anti-viral treatments on the basis of need, wherein people in affected developing countries have access. The current discussion in the WHO on the sharing of viruses and the sharing of benefits needs to conclude with the developing countries ensured that they will have access to affordable anti-virals and vaccines and the appropriate technology to make such products.

Last week the World Health Organisation alerted the international community to the possibility of a full-scale pandemic, as it raised its pandemic alert for the swine flu to stage 5. As of 3 May 2009, 17 countries have officially reported 787 cases of influenza A(H1N1) infection.

The swine flu outbreak is a stark reminder that if a deadly pandemic were to develop, there will be a desperate fight over limited supplies of anti-viral treatments and vaccines, in which the developing countries will be at a vast disadvantage.

Today more than 90% of the global capacity for vaccine manufacturing is located in Europe and in North America[1]. Developed countries through ³advance purchase agreements² with manufacturers have already reserved a ood portion of the limited current manufacturing capacity[2]. Thus in the event of a pandemic, the world would be several billion doses short of the expected demand.

If there is a worldwide pandemic of a new deadly influenza billions of doses of anti-viral treatments and vaccines will be required in the developing world and manufacturers will only be able to supply a small portion of what s needed. The anti-virals and vaccines sold to developing countries are also likely to be expensive, making them unaffordable for those in need.

Similarly the latest technology and know-how needed to produce the necessary vaccines or anti-viral treatments are with manufacturers in developed countries, and often protected by patents and trade secrets, and thus inaccessible to manufacturers in developing countries.

The swine flu outbreak once again highlights the importance of the pandemic influenza virus and benefit sharing negotiations taking place in the World Health Organisation. While it began with the case of the deadly avian flu, the negotiations are equally relevant to the present swine flu outbreak.

For the past 2 years developing countries led by Indonesia, Thailand, India, Nigeria, Brazil have been fighting for reforms in the WHO influenza system to ensure that developing countries (many of which contribute their viruses for research and for manufacturing vaccines) are assured of access to
technology and know-how to build capacity in preparation of a pandemic as well as affordable and timely treatments when pandemics break out.

However there has been fierce resistance from developed countries particularly the US, EU and Japan, that would like to ensure that no obligations are placed on their manufacturers to share their technology and know-how, or treatments that developing countries need.

For developing countries to prepare for, or combat, a pandemic there needs to be international solidarity, a call made ALSO by the Director General of WHO, Dr. Margaret Chan.

This international solidarity needs to be realized in the upcoming negotiations on influenza virus and benefit sharing that resumes on 15 May in Geneva. There needs to be serious consideration of what a fair and equitable system for benefit sharing should be and measures that will need to be put in place to overcome patent and other intellectual property barriers.

Developing countries have proposed several measures on benefit sharing including:
---Obligating manufacturers that receive virus samples to contribute to a WHO stockpile and to provide developing countries with vaccines and anti-virals needed at a reasonable costs;
----Providing technology and know-how licences to allow manufacturing in developing countries; and
----Obligating manufacturers to contribute a portion of their profits to a fund which could be used for purchasing the needed vaccines or anti-virals as well as building manufacturing and other relevant capacity in developing countries.
----Ensuring that patents and IPRs do not block access to needed vaccines and anti-virals as well as the technology to produce such products.

On measures to overcome patent and other intellectual property rights barriers there are proposals that recipients of virus samples should not claim patents over the samples or parts thereof. For any products produced using the virus samples that are patented royalty free licenses have been proposed to enable manufacturing in developing countries.

Without a system of fair and equitable benefit-sharing in place and measures to overcome the intellectual property barriers, developing countries are likely to be left without affordable vaccines or treatments since the
companies making them are located in developed countries which would want to ensure the scarce supplies are given to their own people first.

The best solution is to help developing countries build their own capacity to manufacture the vaccines and other treatments that are needed, so that enough can be available for all that require them when there is an outbreak.

This is an urgent matter as millions of lives are at stake.

For further information please contact:
Sangeeta Shashikant
Third World Network,
Geneva Office
Tel (Mobile): +41 (0) 78 757 2331
Email: [email protected]


[1] See WHO¹s Questions and answers related to vaccines for the new influenza A(H1N1), available at
http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/frequently_asked_questions/vaccine_p
reparedness/en/index.html

[2] The 2006 WHO Global Pandemic Influenza Action Plan to
increase vaccine supply estimates that if manufacturers optimize current output, the production capacity for potential influenza vaccine would be 500 million doses (inactivated trivalent vaccine).

 

 

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Third World Network
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