Mistakes from the COVID-19 response must not be repeated in future pandemic planning
New York/ Geneva, 21 September 2021
As governments meet alongside the UN General Assembly to discuss the COVID-19 response, MSF highlights again the urgent concrete actions that should be taken to turn a corner on this pandemic.
Dr. Maria Guevara, MSF International Medical Secretary:
“The global response to the pandemic has failed to deliver equal and equitable access to date, with the world now divided into a limited number of countries where people can protect themselves from this killer disease, and the majority of countries where people are left vulnerable to it. The longer the world is divided into COVID-19 haves and have-nots, the longer the pandemic will drag on, the more variants can develop, and the more deaths and suffering will occur. It is not too late to turn the corner and course correct, so that the world can finally get ahead of the wave with this pandemic.
“In places where MSF works, we have witnessed the near-collapse of health systems under the burden of a disease which is now largely preventable. The dramatic lack of access to vaccines, treatments and diagnostics in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America is both devastating and unconscionable. The prolonged inequity and overarching socio-economic impact of the pandemic risks further deteriorating access to healthcare in many low- and middle-income countries.
“As the world heads toward five million lives lost to COVID-19, high-income governments need to urgently do three things so we can turn a corner on this pandemic: they must immediately redistribute their excess COVID-19 vaccines well before these doses expire to low- and middle-income countries that continue to dramatically lag behind in vaccination coverage via COVAX or regional procurement bodies, and make sure these countries are supported for vaccine rollout; they must use all their power to compel pharmaceutical corporations to share mRNA technology and know-how with the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa, and to share technology and know-how to produce monoclonal antibody treatments; and all governments must get behind the TRIPS Waiver supported by more than 100 countries at the World Trade Organization, which will allow all governments to remove intellectual property barriers and increase supply and availability of COVID-19 treatments, diagnostics and vaccines during the pandemic, so that many more lives can be saved.
“Based on our experience in resource-limited settings, we know governments must prioritise funding not just for delivery but also strong health promotion and dialogue with communities to counter disinformation and fear resulting in vaccine hesitancy. We also urgently need to reach people ‘outside’ the system – refugees, internally displaced persons, migrants, and those living in non-government-controlled areas.
“An important barrier that must be overcome is the legal liability question that has hampered truly reaching the most vulnerable, wherever they are in the system. As vaccines receive full authorization for use, this should be followed immediately by pharmaceutical companies resuming liability responsibility for their own products. Continued acceptance of this transfer of responsibility and talks of waivers only serves to normalize a set up that should not have existed in the first place.
“It is time to look critically at the root causes of the access crisis in this pandemic: the structural inequality in the global health system which concentrates decision-making power and ownership of lifesaving health technologies in the hands of a few powerful nations and their pharmaceutical corporations. Any mechanism to improve the current pandemic response and future pandemic preparedness and response should not repeat the mistakes made during COVID-19 to date, and be firmly rooted in multilateral cooperation with clear accountability for high-income governments and pharmaceutical corporations in particular.
“Every day that goes by, another roughly 10,000 people are lost to this disease – what are governments with the power to change this horrific statistic waiting for?”
For more information, see MSF’s recommendations to control the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.