As we struggle to stay alive and literally fight for our lives as peoples of the Global South, we believe it is time for countries of the North to take responsibility and rise to the challenge. We direct this challenge, first, to the US government which we believe is well positioned in the fight against the pandemic, to take the lead in showing a new generosity to the rest of the world, now that Donald Trump has been retired.
The US government has been supporting accelerated research of several Covid-19 vaccines through the massively-subsidised “Operation Warp Speed”. The US government’s commitment is a function of world-leading scientists at the Center for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. The Moderna vaccine and others were invented through this co-funding, and as such we believe these vital medicines should reach optimal benefit through maximum access and distribution.
That means the Joe Biden administration should release to the world the ‘Intellectual Property’ – monopolistic ownership – on this vaccine as well as other Covid-19 treatments and medical equipment.
But more than the others, Moderna is placing profits before people in what is the world’s worst pandemic in a century. Moderna’s profiteering includes identifying which countries may access its vaccine and at what cost.
The US government is thus strategically placed to change this approach and facilitate Moderna’s vaccine so it is available to the Global South. The South has a much less developed hospital infrastructure, far less testing and tracing capacity, and much fewer fiscal resources to halt the spread and damage of Covid-19. South Africa was devasted by the second wave, with estimated deaths – including ‘excess’ beyond normal mortality – at more than 100 000, mostly since December.
We urgently need vaccines, as do our sisters and brothers in the Global South, and the US government we believe is actually morally obligated as a co-developer and co-owner of the NIH Moderna Vaccine. (t would be an absolute indictment on the part of the US if they chose to look the other way as millions lose their lives.
We support the call made to Biden by the Peoples Vaccine Campaign in South Africa to end vaccine apartheid by the rich and countries of the North against the peoples of the Global South.
Biden could do so with an Executive Order tomorrow, if the Global South and his own citizens pressure him, especially so the Moderna vaccine is available here and everywhere: scale up production, including through generic not just branded vaccines; share the medical know-how with the world so we can all invest in urgently-needed production facilities; follow other firms’ lead by producing on a non-profit basis.
Biden can prove the U.S. has really had a change of government by finally acting in the interests of humanity. He knows that in his own society, Black Lives Matter. But it is time for him acknowledge that the lives of people in the Global South matter.
We continue to suffer from the legacies of slavery, colonialism and apartheid – in which successive United States governments were complicit. The inequalities of the world between the rich and poor countries are worsening, with the Covid-19 catastrophe amplifying our suffering. Yet again, we are at the back of the queue while rich countries not only stand first in line but have secured more than what they need – by a factor of five in some cases, such as the United States’ neighbour to the north – Canada.
Pharmaceutical companies are terrible examples of profiteering during a pandemic, creating this vaccine apartheid. Our government’s efforts through the Covax and bilateral negotiations have been unimpressive to put it mildly.
And yet we have a good example of how even under the George W. Bush administration, when the PEPFAR programme was financed to make generic AIDS medicines available, the best traditions of the United States can overwhelm Big Pharma’s greed. Once these generics were provided free of charge through our public health system, the life expectancy here rose from 52 to 65, and similar amounts in other countries where 40 million people were living with HIV, expecting to die without those medicines.
Although we are often critical of the United States, its activists in ACTUP! and other health rights organisations made sure that Washington did not serve Big Pharma’s branded interests but instead gave the world access to critical medical technology, without Intellectual Property. This is what we urgently need to see repeated; if Bush could do it so can Biden, now that the scale of this pandemic far exceeds even AIDS.
If instead, Biden does not act, and Big Pharma – including Moderna – refuse to increase production and share the technology for generic manufacturers, then we will protest at Washington’s diplomatic offices as well as Big Pharma’s, just as we did twenty years ago.
The unequivocal message to the world we aim to send, and that Biden must understand, is that our lives in the Global South matter too, especially when a pandemic means if anyone suffers from fresh outbreaks of Covid-19, so too will everyone in the world.