MHC calls for universal access to Covid-19 treatments, vaccines

By HARIZAH KAMEL / Pic BLOOMBERG

THE Malaysian Health Coalition (MHC) has urged for universal access to all types of technologies to diagnose, treat or vaccinate Covid-19 for all countries.

In a statement yesterday, MHC said it acknowledged US-based biopharmaceutical company, Gilead Sciences Inc’s announcement on May 13, that they have signed non-exclusive voluntary licensing (VL) agreements with five generic-pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The agreement was to expand the supply of experimental drug remdesivir to 127 countries.

“We also noted that Malaysia and other middle-income countries’ absence from that list, and that remdesivir is not currently approved in any country for any indication.

“Therefore, we urge all global diagnostics, pharmaceutical and vaccine companies, including Gilead, to meet the following recommendations to ensure that all of humanity will have people’s vaccines, people’s medicines and people’s diagnostics,” it said.

The first recommendation is to ensure that Malaysia and all middle-income countries can import from VL generic manufacturers if necessary.

MHC said Malaysia has made significant progress towards universal health coverage, but gaps remain.

“The financial and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will further strain national resources and widen access gaps, especially when Malaysia is under-spending on health.

“Similar to many other countries, Malaysia has limited fiscal space for additional spending,” it said.

MHC further stated that the country’s poverty rate may increase by up to 16% as a direct result of the pandemic, according to the World Bank and that 3.1 million residents who are non-citizens (migrants, refugees and stateless persons) with relatively lower healthcare access compared to citizens, need equal care as well.

“Therefore, any VL by any company for any diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and vaccines during the Covid-19 pandemic should include Malaysia,” said MHC.

Secondly, MHC recommends transparency with decision-making criteria for all VLs and for these criteria to be applied consistently.

It fears a fragmented future landscape of inconsistent decision-making criteria adopted by multiple companies deciding the levels of healthcare access for sovereign states in non-transparent, non-accountable and unfair ways.

“We urge industry associations like the International Federation Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations, to publish criteria for inclusion in these licences and ensure that decision-making takes into account real and meaningful country differences,” it said.

MHC also pressed these industry associations to formally acknowledge, embrace and incorporate thinking around Covid-19 technologies as global public goods.

This is in line with the assertions contained in the World Health Organisation’s “Call to Action for Covid-19” and the European Commission’s Coronavirus Global Response.

“While we recognise the relevance of the global intellectual property frameworks, we urge patent-holders to adopt global VL arrangements to allow all of humanity to defeat this unprecedented pandemic,” added MHC.