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We must ensure developing countries have equitable access to covid treatments

We must ensure developing countries have equitable access to covid treatments

All of these programmes that the UK is standing behind must ensure every man, woman and child, whatever background, wherever they’re from, have access to potentially life-saving tests and treatments – and eventually – vaccines, writes Sarah Champion MP. | PA Images

3 min read

Failure on equitable access to future Covid vaccines would put the UK’s reputation as a development superpower at risk.

Every country around the world has been impacted by coronavirus with indiscriminate cases and deaths regardless of economic power, geography or health care reputation. The impact of the pandemic on developing countries – particularly where economies and health care systems were already weak – is deeply troubling.

We will shortly be publishing our report considering coronavirus in developing countries. During the inquiry we heard how the pandemic could set back development progress 30 years. There are so many unknowns. It is incredibly challenging – sometimes impossible – to get an accurate picture of the scale of the outbreak in certain countries with insufficient testing posing severe challenges to mounting an effective response. 

Part of that response will of course be the roll-out of vaccines, and we are hearing promising murmurings that one or more vaccines could be ready in the coming months.

But without special measures, the Global South could be waiting some time for vaccine supplies to be either available or accessible.

To tackle the global pandemic of coronavirus, we must learn from the past challenges

Past episodes of developing countries seeking equitable access to medicines have been shameful.

We have seen many people across Africa priced out of treatment for HIV/AIDs with some drugs costing up to $10,000 a year. But when South Africa passed legislation facilitating access to cheaper products, it caused international uproar with pharma companies suing the government for breaching WTO rules.

Meanwhile cancer drugs are priced at such a level to favour access in high-income countries, with many poorer countries priced out. Consequently, survival rates are significantly impacted: the US 5-year overall survival rate of 84% for breast cancer compared to 12% in Gambia. Drug companies must cover their R&D costs but, equally, there must be a way for low income countries and communities to get a fairer deal.

To tackle the global pandemic of coronavirus, we must learn from the past challenges mentioned above.

The UK government should be commended for showing international leadership, allocating £1,224 million to the global response and calling out the selfish attitudes of many countries stockpiling PPE earlier this year.

It is right that the government has thrown its weight behind CEPI and Covax which champion equitable access to future Covid vaccines. The Government is also supporting R&D projects for treatments and tests also based on equitable global access.

However, it has stopped short of supporting the WHO’s whole ‘ACT’ programme which brings all relevant organisations together from around the world to champion Covid-related R&D. We can speculate why this is.

It is imperative that equitable access means equitable access. All of these programmes that the UK is standing behind must ensure every man, woman and child, whatever background, wherever they’re from, have access to potentially life-saving tests and treatments – and eventually – vaccines. They must not be priced out by a lack of planning ahead or anyone forgetting the amount of public money committed to this work.

Failure on equitable access really would put the UK’s reputation as a development superpower at risk.

We must not forget the potential for self-interested angle here. It’s not rocket science – it’s epidemiology – for anyone to be safe from a ferociously infectious viral pandemic, everyone must be safe, no one can be left behind.

 

Sarah Champion is the Labour MP for Rotherham and chair of the International Development Committee.

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