Inequalities in access to COVID-19 medical products persist as corporate power expands : Peoples Dispatch
Cases of COVID-19 persist around the world, raising particular concern in regions with low immunization rates due to unequal access to vaccines. As the pandemic continues, analyzes of the global response continue to underscore the dangers of prevailing multi-partisan campaigns. One of the latest of these analyzes is a report published by Transnational Institute and Friends of the Earth International in July. It examines how transnational corporations (TNCs) seized the opportunity to gain more power over international institutions and expand markets during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the launch of the report, Lauren Paremoer of the People’s Health Movement pointed out that the capture of the multilateral system by TNCs and private philanthropies was already underway before the pandemic, but extraordinary circumstances have led to an unforeseen expansion. In the report itself, Harris Gleckman, former head of the New York office of the United Nations (UN) Conference on Trade and Development, highlights how a response to the pandemic is building on multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the The COVID-19 Tool Access Accelerator (ACT-A) has essentially resulted in an international response driven by TNC interests rather than global solidarity.
As demonstrated in previous instances, the report says the COVID-19 pandemic has been a source of record profits for major pharmaceutical and biotech producers. Most strikingly, this suggests that the inclusion of TNCs in pandemic response mechanisms, in combination with their quest to protect and expand markets, has resulted in the prioritization of market opportunities over people’s lives.
In addition to issues around access to COVID-19 vaccines in the Global South, the report highlights examples of inequitable access to COVID-19 tests, personal protective equipment (PPE) and therapeutics – from Essential products highly inaccessible in developing countries due to prohibitive prices. Also among those products is medical oxygen, which about 15% of all COVID-19 patients need while on treatment, according to the nonprofit organization PATH.
In low- and middle-income countries, this translates to around 500,000 people needing a million cylinders of oxygen every day, an amount that exceeds what was defined in contracts signed before the start of COVID-19. . Since the start of the pandemic, oxygen shortages have been recorded in Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe, among others. And although the shortages presented a direct threat to the health and lives of thousands of people in the Global South, some oxygen producers continued to insist on contractual clauses prohibiting the supply of oxygen from other sources. sources, including local extraction.
Among other things, ACT-A was supposed to examine and close the gaps between oxygen supply and need through an emergency task force coordinated by Unitaid, an intergovernmental funding agency, and the Wellcome Foundation based United Kingdom. But instead of developing approaches that would ensure rapid and accessible deployments of supplemental oxygen supplies when needed, the task force “focused on arranging grants and loans from OECD countries, from the World Bank, regional development banks and private foundations to enable local health authorities to purchase supplemental oxygen.
According to the report, there is concern that a similar procedure may have been put in place with regard to the purchase and distribution of PPE through ACT-A. A strategic plan from October 2021 to October 2022 remains silent on the more practical aspects of delivering PPE to the 92 priority countries. Reviewing the oxygen supply experience, the report states that it is “reasonable to assume that this objective and the related market expansion would be achieved, if at all, by increased debt or grants to institutions in developing countries”.
As Gleckman pointed out at the launch, this is a well-known pattern of the COVID-19 vaccine procurement process: countries that lacked the resources to pay the high prices set by producers vaccines were forced to take out loans around the world. Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This means that they will have to allocate even more money to debt service instead of strengthening health and social security systems, which will compromise their ability to respond to future crises.
Due to the effects of loans from international financial institutions on the stability of health systems in developing countries, debt and debt cancellation should be a major focus in future phases of the COVID-19 discussion, suggested Lauren Paremoer. With this element missing from the conversation, developing countries face the same grim no-access scenario they faced in the case of vaccines.
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