On Friday, May 15th the World Health Organization (WHO) held its press briefing for the World Health Assembly on COVID-19. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, noted that the WHO had received a proposal from Costa Rica, and had accepted to assist to set up a health technology repository for vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and any other tools that may work against COVID-19. A platform for open, collaborative sharing of knowledge, data and intellectual property on existing and new health tools to combat COVID-19 will be launched. Dr. Tedros noted that new health tools would not end the pandemic without equitable access to them. Moreover, traditional market models will not be able to deliver at the scale that is needed to cover the entire globe; emphasizing solidarity within and between countries and the private sector is essential to overcome these difficult times. Dr. Tedros made a call for leaders to come together.
President Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica spoke at the briefing to explain the proposal. It aims to create a global repository of intellectual property including data, knowledge, technologies, and designs regarding COVID-19. This repository will be made available for everybody around the world so that the information can be used without barriers. The repository would be created voluntarily. He made a call for solidarity to create a global pool for rights on data, knowledge, and technologies so that these can be made affordable and accessible. President Alvarado stressed that the call was not only for WHO Member states but also for academia, the private sector, companies, research institutions and co-operation agencies around the world. He stressed that innovations and technologies to fight COVID-19 should be seen as global public goods to protect humanity against this threat.
President Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica
The official call for action and solidarity will be launched on May 29th. President Alvarado invited more countries to support it and emphasized the need for multilateral action and global solidarity.
A representative of President Sebastian Piñera of Chile also joined the press conference. He expressed the President’s support for the initiative and highlighted that the pandemic affects all people without regard for their age, gender or race and that developing countries are particularly affected, so all countries must work together to address COVID-19.
The WHO Director-General also stressed the importance of investing in health and that there does not need to be a trade-off between investing in health and the economy. He remarked that health is an investment in our collective future, and funding health for all ensures children are healthy and can go to school. People can go to work, which makes societies and economies more robust and more sustainable.
Dr. Mariangela Simao, Assistant Director-General for Access to Medicines and Health Products, also joined the press conference and answered questions from journalists. She explained that there will be a resolution that contains several access-related issues at the World Health Assembly. She suggested that many of the issues that are part of the call to action by Costa Rica are addressed in the draft resolution, including ensuring equitable access, supporting COVID-related knowledge, lessons learned and sharing of best practices.
A journalist asked about the difference between the Costa Rican proposal and the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator that was launched a few weeks prior. Dr. Mariangela Simao explained that this initiative is complementary to the ACT Accelerator because the proposed initiative provides an operational framework for sharing knowledge and data related to COVID technologies and the opportunity to do a repository for open licensing, intellectual property and voluntary licensing. She said that there is an expectation that there will be an increase in the offers of voluntary license through the Medicines Patent Pool and other licensing mechanisms.
She also mentioned that the Medicines Patent Pool has expanded its mandate to include COVID products and that Unitaid, the primary funder of the Patent Pool, has also approved the expansion of the mandate. Dr. Simao suggested that at the launch event on May 29, Member states from all regions should join the call.
Author: Mirza Alas is Programme Officer of the Health, Intellectual Property and Biodiversity Programme (HIPB) of the South Centre.