The ‘Open Ended Working Group” on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness recently completed its 2nd meeting and has resulted in some breakthroughs in the long standing effort by nations to prepare a framework for tackling pandemics, especially for poorer countries which do not have the capacity to develop or receive vaccinations. As usual, there is a developing – developed country divide on certain issues. [William New of IP Watch has an interview with a key negotiator of these meetings here.] The issue which they’ve gotten together to resolve is that currently there is a total capacity of manufacture for 1 billion people only, leaving the other 5.8 billion in the lurch. [Image taken from here]
The main goals of the meetings are to examine how nations are best able to cope with future pandemics and other health crises, and as a part of this, very importantly, WHO’s work on creating a virus and other pandemic related benefit sharing mechanism. Prior attempts at constructing such a framework usually came across a lot of friction regarding the Standard Material Transfer Agreement (SMTA), however this time, IP Watch reports that countries came to the table ready for more flexibility regarding who would be bound by the SMTA. (Previously, the friction was regarding whether it would be mandatory to share benefits or remain optional, with developing countries worried that this being voluntary would render too much uncertainty for them). Developed countries seem to still be unwilling to commit to this, despite the recent Nagoya protocol (of the CBD). There also seems to be issues with the IP provisions, as well as transparency. Sangeeta Shashikant of Third World Network reports that developed countries have taken a rigid stance on a range of issues including benefit sharing, IP and transparency which indicate that they’re interested more in protecting their industries, and their access to treatment in case of a pandemic – which, if true, is not at all surprising.
Interestingly, US’s ambassador Betty King has said that India currently produces 70% of the world’s vaccines. This isn’t a fact that I’ve verified, but if true, as she pointed out, it should also mean that the nations should be concentrating on drug transfer and delivery systems, since a concentrated bloc of vaccines in one part of the world means it’s much harder to send those drugs to the other side of the world – an issue that the EU hopefully recognises. I’m referring to the oft-raised issue of drug seizures that the EU officials recently claimed has now been resolved – a claim which time will hopefully verify.