World leaders and medical experts have signed an open letter calling for free access to any vaccine against COVID-19.
According to a statement issued on Thursday by the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS, (UNAIDS), the letter was signed by more than 140 world leaders.
“More than 140 world leaders, experts and elders have made an unprecedented call for guarantees that COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, tests and treatments will be provided free of charge to everyone, everywhere,” the statement said.
The letter was signed by the President of South Africa and Chair of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa; the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan; the President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall; and the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo.
Other signatories include the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown; the former President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo; the former United Nations Development Programme Administrator and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark and others.
According to the statement, this call was made just days before health ministers are expected to meet virtually for the World Health Assembly on May 18.
The letter, which marks the most ambitious position yet set out by world leaders on a COVID-19 vaccine, demands that “all vaccines, treatments and tests be patent-free, mass-produced, distributed fairly and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.”
Mr Ramaphosa reportedly said billions of people await a vaccine which is the best hope of ending this pandemic.
He said countries of Africa are resolute that the COVID-19 vaccine must be patent-free, rapidly made and distributed, and free for all.
“All the science must be shared between governments. Nobody should be pushed to the back of the vaccine queue because of where they live or what they earn,” he said.
Also, Mr Khan said: “We must work together to beat this virus. We must pool all the knowledge, experience and resources at our disposal for the good of all humanity.”
He said “no leader can rest easy until every individual in every nation is able to rapidly access a vaccine free of charge”.
The letter, coordinated by UNAIDS and Oxfam, warns that the world cannot afford monopolies and competition that stand in the way of the universal need to save lives.
Mrs Johnson Sirleaf described the crisis as an unprecedented one which requires an unprecedented response.
“Learning the lessons from the fight against Ebola, governments must remove all the barriers to the development and rapid roll out of vaccines and treatments. No interest is more important than the universal need to save lives,” she said.
The statement highlighted that the leaders recognise that progress is being made and that many countries and international organisations are cooperating multilaterally on research and development.
Also, the leaders appreciated funding and access, “including the welcome US$8 billion pledged on 4 May at the European Union’s international pledging marathon.”
The leaders in the letter requested that countries share COVID-19-related knowledge, data and technologies “in order to ensure that any nation can produce or buy affordable doses of vaccines, treatments and tests”.
They demanded a rapid establishment of an equitable global manufacturing and distribution plan for all vaccines, treatments and tests
These, they added, “will be fully funded by rich nations, which guarantees transparency at true cost prices while supplying in accordance with need rather than the ability to pay.”
“This would include urgent action to massively increase manufacturing capacity to produce the vaccines in sufficient quantities and train and recruit millions of health workers to distribute them.
“A guarantee that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests are provided free of charge to everyone, everywhere, with priority given to frontline workers, vulnerable people and poor countries with the least capacity to save lives.
“Faced with this crisis, we cannot carry on business as usual. The health of each of us depends on the health of all of us,” Ms Clark added.
She said the COVID-19 vaccine “must belong to everyone”, maintaining that “diplomatic platitudes are not enough, legal guarantees are needed.”