Civil Society Push for Binding Commitments on Access to COVID-19 Tech

Civil society organizations continue to push for binding commitments on “equitable access to any effective technologies developed with regards to COVID-19”.

The letter sent earlier this month to WHO, its member states and UNITAID signed by 86 civil society organizations can be read here.

CSOs pointed out the the lack of governance mechanisms and binding commitments for equitable access and sharing of technology, knowledge and data, management and licensing of intellectual property for medical tools to fight the pandemic.

“Funding and voluntary approaches for intellectual property (IP) licensing alone are not sufficient to guarantee that life-saving health technologies and medical tools will be delivered into the hands of health ministries, treatment providers and patients around the world.”

Organizations are of the view that there is no transparency or accountability – and they cite the example of Gilead’s approach to remdesivir.

“Even as publication of data is awaited on the safety and efficacy of the drug, Gilead has opted to pursue secret voluntary licenses of its IP and technology to specific manufacturers, while excluding others, despite the potential need to ramp up global production.”

They point out that there is no transparency on the terms of its license agreements. It is not clear, when and how, if proven effective, will the drug be made available to countries.

Signatories to this letter also mention concerns around the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT), and how this new mechanism will make access possible, potentially even for drugs like remdesivir.

Some key elements from the letter:

  1. Restoring role of member states and WHO

Questions of governance and accountability around the ACT Accelerator have been raised and CSOs called for greater management and oversight of how funding agencies work on ACT. They fear that without a wider involvement of WHO represented by all member states, the benefits of the mechanism will not be truly global.

“While we understand that some Member States are engaged in the governance of the ACT, and that WHO has a role to play in the operation and management of ACT, the decision to hand over control of the ACT to several global health funding agencies that are funded by only a few governments and primarily serve the needs of low-income countries, means that the ACT will not truly be a global mechanism.”

In their letter, the CSOs state that”the original ACT was conceptualised through a closed-door process on the basis of a White Paper developed in part by the Gates Foundation. This paper has still not been published, thereby limiting any understanding of the basis for choices that have already been made, and what other approaches may have been considered as the ACT was developed.”

It has been pointed out in the letter that pharmaceutical companies have been integrated into the governance of the ACT, but there has been no role or engagement of civil society in the development, oversight and operation of the ACT.

“We request full transparency of international policy making process and meaningful participation of civil society organizations in shaping global initiatives concerning access to COVID-19 medical tools.”

2. The importance of binding mechanisms to ensure equitable allocation:

“We note the first commitment of the ACT is – the shared aim of equitable global access to innovative tools for COVID-19 for all.”

But CSOs believe that there is no concrete mechanism that defines “equitable global access” and holds manufacturers and other stakeholders accountable to this commitment.

3. Global sharing of IP & open innovation, over voluntary approaches

They note the “absence of clear mechanisms that guarantee the sharing of technology, know-how, data and intellectual property, needed to counter COVID-19 and ramp up global manufacture of needed medical products.”

Specifically: “We express concern with WHO’s continued reliance on voluntary approaches at the detriment of commonly agreed on TRIPS flexibilities.”

“Voluntary mechanisms are insufficient in these extraordinary times of dire global need. We also note that several of the global health agencies and foundations within the ACT are reluctant, unwilling or hostile to appropriately support the right of countries to use such flexibilities to address intellectual property barriers that undermine equitable and affordable access to health technologies.”, the letter said.

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