MSF started activities linked to COVID 19 in France, focusing on vulnerable people living in the streets, such as migrants. On March 24th, 700 people were evacuated from a camp in Aubervilliers near Paris, where they were living in precarious conditions. They were dispatched on various emergency shelters located in Paris and Ile de France. MSF teams are deployed in some of these shelters to evaluate their health and identify potential COVID 19 cases. Photograph by Agnes Varraine Leca
Letter |

Members of European Parliament ask the Commission: Make COVID-19 tools affordable and available

As the global pandemic of COVID-19 continues to spread, a cross-party group of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) has written to the European Commission, demanding urgent action to ensure the affordability and availability of any vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for COVID-19 developed with European Union (EU) funding.

Photograph by Agnes Varraine Leca

Currently, EU-funded research projects do not contain legal provisions or requirements to ensure that end products will be made accessible, affordable, and available for patients and health care systems. Without these safeguards, end products, as well as scientific knowledge and data on the disease, generated with EU funding and expertise, risks being privatised, the MEPs argue. This in turn could lead to high prices and supply issues resulting in the rationing of medical tools and the loss of lives.

“We cannot allow patients to be refused care because of financial constraints or shortages resulting from manufacturing or supply constraints. From this moment forward, we require new medical tools to be immediately available once authorised for use, at an affordable price and in high enough quantities to meet global demand.”

We cannot allow pharmaceutical companies to prioritise profit maximalisation at the expense of public health

Petra De Sutter
Member of the European Parliament

The group encourages the European Commission to move away from a “business as usual” approach, and to place strict conditions on COVID-19 funding agreements. The use of worldwide, non-exclusive licensing is an option, the group suggests, because it enables a number of manufacturers of effective medical tools to rapidly scale up production to meet demands in Europe and elsewhere, resulting in competition that could lead to more affordable end products.

Petra De Sutter, MEP (Greens-EFA), said that the urgent priority of public health over profit was very clear: “Research institutes and the pharmaceutical industry are very important partners in the fight against COVID-19, but we cannot allow pharmaceutical companies to prioritise profit maximalisation at the expense of public health. Once approved, diagnostic tools, treatments, and vaccines for COVID-19 should be immediately accessible for everyone. The European Commission should take action on non-exclusive licensing to make this happen.”

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Access Campaign and Health Action International (HAI) coordinated the letter as facilitators of the European Parliament Working Group on Innovation, Access to Medicines and Poverty-related Diseases. 

Europe is currently at the epicenter of COVID-19 pandemic⁠—in recent years access to affordable medicines has increasingly become a matter of concern in the EU.