The director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced at the end of the 13th Meeting of the Emergency Committee of the International Health Regulations (IHR) that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (ESPPI).
Dr. Tedros expressed his concern about the persistent inequities in vaccine coverage and access to antiviral and therapeutic treatments between countries, reductions in epidemiological and laboratory surveillance activities for Covid-19 that are necessary to monitor the evolution and impact of the virus, and the removal of many public health and social measures ahead of the expected surge next winter.
The goals to be achieved in the coming months will be that the appropriate strategies, systems and resources are in place to detect any adverse change in the epidemiology of Covid-19 due, for example, to the appearance of a new, more transmissible variant with greater immune escape, capable of causing more serious disease; Member States have the necessary capacity to increase public health and social measures in response to a new event; that the world population is duly protected by an effective and equitable vaccination program; that strategies that increase equitable access to affordable therapies continue to be developed; and that progress towards a robust global architecture of preparedness for the next pandemic is maintained.
Given the ESPPI in force today, the declarations of the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) held in Geneva in the twelfth period of sessions are relevant. In reviewing the WTO’s response to Covid-19, they noted that members have faced limitations in the supply of vaccines, treatments, diagnostics and other essential medical products related to Covid-19; with differences between the members in terms of levels of development, financial capacities and degrees of dependence on imports of these products.
They recognize today the importance of ensuring that any emergency trade measures to deal with Covid-19, if deemed necessary, are targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade or disruptions in supply chains.
They recall that Members have the right, since the Doha Declaration in 2001 -where the regulatory framework of the intellectual property and public health (TRIPS) system was configured-, to use TRIPS to address current public health problems and futures. The Declaration identifies some specific options available to governments to address public health needs, also known as “flexibilities”. More recently, the inclusion of these flexibilities in the Sustainable Development Goals has highlighted their importance.
Productive, scientific and technological capacity must be strengthened throughout the world, to develop solutions to public health crises beyond COVID.19, including those related to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other neglected tropical diseases, and to diversify the places of production. Hence the importance of promoting the transfer of technology that contributes to the creation of capacity in related sectors.
They stress that to ensure resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is also important to facilitate international operations of logistics and freight forwarding services. It also recognizes the importance of facilitating trade in services, including health services and information and communication technology (ICT) services, guaranteeing privacy and data protection.
Two days ago we participated as members of the Parliamentary Network for Global Health (UNITE), Gisela Scaglia and this writer in a workshop organized by the WTO, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Congress of the Nation of Argentina. The purpose was to address business challenges and the contribution that parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean can make. We open the conversation about our role in access to vaccines. It was motivating to hear the experiences of the participants.
On December 16, the WHO, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the WTO will hold a symposium to examine the main challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of health, trade and intellectual property, as well as how to analyze the way forward to increase resilience with a view to improving preparedness for future pandemics from a scientific perspective. We must take the risk of listening to the experiences lived and learning from all the participants, where the private sector has played a leading role.
It highlights the urgent need for a response along the entire value chain of health technologies related to COVID-19, from research and development (R&D) of health technologies to their medical regulation, acquisition, distribution and responsible use.
I conclude, dear readers, by pointing out that we parliamentarians must play a more proactive role both in this type of event and in the elaboration of the new WHO convention, treaty or other international instrument on the prevention, preparation and response to pandemics resulting from the extraordinary session of the World Health Assembly that must be for subscription of the countries in 2024. I will keep you informed.
*Éctor Jaime Ramírez Barba is a surgeon, specialized in public health, doctorate in health sciences and public administration, and is a re-elected deputy of the PAN parliamentary group in the LXV Legislature.
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