The cross : The G7 Heads of State Summit in Carbis Bay, June 11-13, will be largely dominated by the response to the Covid epidemic. What do you expect from it?
Marisol Touraine : I am waiting for the G7 heads of state to get involved, politically and financially, to respond to Covid-19 in vulnerable countries. The current pandemic shows, once again, that there are no borders when it comes to infectious diseases. We will only be protected when the whole world is.
The major international health organizations, of which Unitaid is a part, have mobilized by launching Act-A, an initiative coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO). It aims to provide a global response to the pandemic by providing vaccines to poor countries (with Covax), but also tests, treatments and by improving health systems.
Act-A has estimated its needs at 22 billion dollars for 2021. To date, 16 billion are still lacking. You need vaccines, of course. But we also need tests, treatments, for example millions of oxygen cylinders every day. In March 2021, Unitaid provided 65 million self-tests to the poorest countries, it would take ten times more …
The stake is not only humanitarian, it is also economic. If the virus continues to circulate in certain parts of the world, there is the risk that new variants will appear, and that of a new epidemic rebound in the North. So 16 billion, that may sound like a lot. But it is only 0.5% of the amount of the stimulus packages adopted by the United States and the European Union. It is within the reach of the G7!
→ READ. Covid-19: Emmanuel Macron promises increased efforts from France on a global scale
How to put an end, in particular, to the inequality of access to vaccines?
MT: To date, only 2% of available vaccine doses have been distributed to low-income countries. The EU has given a lot and the United States has just announced that they will do the same, it is a generous strategy. But, generosity will not be enough. Sustainable solutions are needed which involve technology transfers and the establishment of vaccine and treatment production units in developing countries.
Unitaid has acquired experience in this area in the face of the AIDS epidemic. To facilitate access to treatment, ten years ago we created the “Medicines Patents Pool”, an organization that negotiates with laboratories a temporary sharing of patents and allows contractual agreements to supervise technology and know-how transfers. .
→ DEBATE. Covid-19: Are rich countries showing selfishness in access to vaccines?
We can mobilize this expertise for the Covid. And for these discussions to go quickly, we need a commitment from the States which, moreover, have largely funded laboratories for research and development of vaccines: their pressure would be legitimate.
So you are not asking for the lifting of intellectual property from patents, as India and South Africa are doing with the World Trade Organization?
MT: It is not necessarily incompatible. We are proposing an accelerated mechanism for voluntary and transparent license sharing. The production of vaccines could be increased in considerable proportions if a temporary sharing of intellectual production and a transfer of know-how could be put in place on existing vaccines.
This can go very quickly and makes it possible to produce more, at low cost while guaranteeing remuneration for the discoverers. The objective is to negotiate with each of the major laboratories the conditions under which it shares its patent. And if that does not work, the outright lifting of intellectual property from patents will be necessary.
This is what we did for the AIDS epidemic by making treatment available for $ 75 for a year in Africa, for example, against more than $ 10,000 in Europe. By lowering the cost of treatment in southern countries, this has enabled us to treat more people.
→ TRIBUNE. The extraordinary scientific mobilization around Covid-19 must also apply to “neglected diseases”
Has this pandemic already changed the approach to health issues?
MT: She should. In any case, this epidemic has made those who already were more vulnerable, in the North as in the South. The Covid kills, and makes it more fragile in the face of other diseases: AIDS, malaria but also tuberculosis, which will have killed around 1.5 million people in 2020, continue to strike.
This epidemic increases inequalities, the poorest are even poorer and women pay a heavy price. This is why there is a need for new and political solutions to give new impetus to the management of diseases on a global scale.