The novel Coronavirus-19 has without a doubt left an indelible mark on us individually, and collectively. It’s devastating effects have transcended borders, race, faith, religion, wage/income bracket, passport colour, and every conceivable metric that we had hither-to deployed to define, differentiate, and divide our world. The pandemic, without doubt, has become generation shaping, and a water-shed bookmark of historic proportions. We all are happy that amidst the pain of loss, and brokenness, lessons have been learned from what is now known as the ‘new normal’.
This week’s newsletter departs from a panoramic view of the ‘new normal’, to gaze on an all-important thread in the fabric of all we have learned in the last 20 months. The equitable proliferation and distribution of Covid Vaccines, free of all legal and economic encumbrances. Opponents of equitable proliferation and distribution are yet to open their minds to the effects of a narrow-minded approach to the problem. Rather, they are focused on the logic which dictates that it is possible to use previously tested and used tools to solve every problem that may arise. The ‘new normal’ whilst exacerbating old problems and divisions, has also birthed new problems. It is my contention that it would be foolhardy to insist on tackling these problems by applying only previously used and hitherto trusted methods. It is time for fresh thinking, and a new way of doing things.
Talking about previously used methods, the current global Covid vaccination programme shows how a hitherto trusted method has led to the biggest vaccination project ever undertaken in human history. Whilst this project may have boosted our collective confidence, with the concomitant effect of energising our multi-faceted global economy; sadly, it has further exposed the global inequalities that plague us, as a species, and an epoch.
Prominent amongst the aforementioned global inequalities is the question of the pricing, availability, and rapid production of the Covid vaccine. This inequality is masked and talked about, quite benignly, as “The Politics, Economics, and Legalese of the Covid Vaccines”. To the horror of anybody in the know, this is a case of deja vu. The current and unfolding horror show re the pricing, availability and local production/proliferation of Covid Vaccines is a replication of what happened with the HIV/AIDS medication decades ago. As recently as 17 years ago, in the Global South, the almost natural reaction to a positive HIV test by one’s family member or colleague, was to commence a grim countdown, and a down payment for a casket. The sad and sensitive moment of a positive HIV diagnosis became even sadder, thanks to the exorbitant and extortionate prices of Anti-Retroviral drugs.
The price regime of HIV/AIDS medication, cloaked as the question of Intellectual Property, led to millions of needless and avoidable deaths which continued in the Global South even when the Global North was approaching zero deaths on account of HIV infections. The death of a loved one from HIV/AIDS related deaths, was often met with a paradoxical reaction. The reaction was a mix of tears and sheer relief; tears at the loss of a dear one, relief that what resources were left could now be devoted to the care of those alive and healthy. At the turn of the millennium, the tide turned. At this point, Non-Governmental Organizations, Christian/Religious leaders, musicians, Hollywood stars had managed to raise doubts about the morality of the big pharmaceutical companies’ opposition to the production of cheaper and effective generic Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs) in the Global South. Thanks to the ‘obstinate’ governments of Brazil, India, and other likeminded countries, the WTO and the UN came onboard. With the support of the UK (Blair) and US (Bush) governments, the legal landscape, as well as the financial structure for production of generic ARV drugs was set. This global cooperation brought about a change of seismic proportions in the fight against the HIV/AIDs scourge.
As one who is not skilled in economics or politics, I shouldn’t be dogmatic. But it is clear that the Global North’s obsession with the Intellectual Property of the Covid Vaccines isn’t a sensible use of previously used and hitherto trusted methods. Whilst Patents Rights may have led to ingenuity and prosperity in the past, it has now become an albatross with regard to the Coronavirus pandemic. Not-withstanding, I support the rights of the scientists, who worked tirelessly to bring us the vaccine, to earn even better pay as well as im-proved working conditions. Without a doubt, the same is true of all those in the essential services, working on the frontlines. Investors, who put up their hard earned cash as initial investment, are also entitled to their dividends. The academic journals are also deserving of the money they make on account of the service they provide. But, the case for the mass production and availability of the Covid Vaccines isn’t just a matter of economics, it is also a moral matter: and it is a central part of our Duty of Care to our species as part of God’s creation.
The relaxation of Patent Rights and the like would lead to a quicker and cheaper mass production of Covid Vaccines in various parts of the world. Failure to recognize the dangers posed by the stubborn insistence on Patent Rights puts all of us in danger. Unlike the HIV/AIDS scourge, Coronavirus knows no boundaries, and is incapable of distinguishing between Global North and Global South. On account of globalization, no one country, no matter the strength of her currency or military, can go it alone in the battle to bring the Coronavirus under control. The current fragile state of global health, the fear of new variants of the virus, combined with the Global North’s tendency to give expensive handouts of Covid vaccines to poorer countries are clear indicators that generic Covid vaccines are ultimately cheaper and more cost effective for the taxpayers of the world’s leading economies.
Finally, it is time for us as constituents, voters, Christians and, may be more importantly, as Humans to do that which is right for us.