Get a pandemic agreement for all, not privileged few

Covid-19 booster vaccine. [iStockphoto]

The spectre of Covid-19 still hangs heavy. Its brutal wake-up call exposed the gaping vulnerabilities in our global health architecture, particularly in Africa, where the pandemic laid bare the stark inequities in access to life-saving resources.

Yet, as the ink dries on a proposed World Health Organisation (WHO) Pandemic Agreement, a disquieting sense of déjà vu sets in. This agreement, intended to be a bulwark against future public health emergencies, threatens to be a monument to missed opportunities.

Negotiations, riddled with self-interest and a lack of transparency, are prioritising the profits of pharmaceutical companies over the collective health security of the world, a chilling echo of the vaccine nationalism witnessed during Covid-19.

The current draft of the agreement is a pale imitation of what’s needed. It’s riddled with empty promises and lacks teeth to ensure equitable access to health resources during pandemics.

Wealthy nations, once again, seem more concerned with protecting the intellectual property rights of drug companies than with the lives on the line. This prioritisation of profit over people is familiar and tragic for African countries who bore the brunt of such disparity during Covid-19.

We, at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, stand alongside countless voices in the global health community, urging a course correction. A robust pandemic agreement is crucial, but not one that perpetuates the fragility of health systems in Africa and the wider Global South.

Equity, not exploitation, must be the cornerstone of this agreement. The prevention, preparedness, and response efforts for any future outbreak must prioritize fairness and accessibility to all nations.

The memory of the early days of Covid remains a stark reminder of the consequences of a fractured global health response. At the heart of our concerns is the urgent need for robust accountability mechanisms within the agreement, including independent oversight.

Without clear enforcement frameworks and incentives for compliance, we risk perpetuating the inequities that plagued our response to the pandemic. We call on world leaders to heed the voices of civil society and stakeholders, who are advocating for tangible engagement in the negotiation process.

The proposed compromise for the WHO Pathogen Access and Benefit-Sharing System (PABS) has been rightly criticised as “shameful, unjust, and inequitable” by other global health players as well. It prioritises the interests of pharmaceutical companies over the fundamental right to health. Developed nations, once again, seem more concerned with protecting private monopolies than fostering collaboration and innovation to combat future pandemics.

This approach is not just morally reprehensible, it’s short-sighted. Pandemics recognise no borders. A robust global health architecture benefits all nations, not just the privileged few. We urge world leaders to rise to the occasion. Let the upcoming WHO assembly be a turning point.

-The writer is the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) Africa Bureau Chief

By AFP 3 hrs ago
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