GENEVA: Prime Minister Imran Khan joined the ranks of 140 world leaders, past and present, who insisted on Thursday that any eventual Covid-19 vaccines and treatments should be made available to everyone, free of charge.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and former Pakistani prime minister Shaukat Aziz were among the signatories of a letter to the World Health Assembly (WHA), saying any vaccine should not be patented, while the science should be shared between nations.
The WHA is the policy-setting body of the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO), which will hold its annual general meeting next week. The letter comes amid fury in France after pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said it would reserve first shipments of any Covid-19 vaccine for the United States.
The signatories called on the WHA to rally behind the global cause. It said that it was not the time to leave the task of resolving the pandemic to market forces or let the interests of wealthy companies and governments come before the need to save lives.
“Governments and international partners must unite around a global guarantee which ensures that, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge,” it said. “The same applies for all treatments, diagnostics, and other technologies for Covid-19.”
The letter is also signed by Senegalese President Macky Sall and Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo. Former presidents and prime ministers include Jan Peter Balkenende, Jose Manuel Barroso, Gordon Brown, Helen Clark, Felipe Gonzalez, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Aleksander Kwasniewski, Mary McAleese, Olusegun Obasanjo and Juan Manuel Santos.
“As the countries of Africa, we are resolute that the Covid-19 vaccine must be patent-free, rapidly made and distributed, and free for all,” Ramaphosa, also the chairperson of the African Union, said. “Nobody should be pushed to the back of the vaccine queue because of where they live or what they earn.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused massive social and economic upheaval across the planet and while some nations have begun easing punishing lockdowns, fears of a second wave have kept many businesses shuttered and people confined to their homes.
A vaccine could allow countries to fully reopen from shutdowns though the WHO cautioned that the virus might never be wiped out entirely. "This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away," said Michael Ryan, the emergencies director at the WHO. "HIV has not gone away – but we have come to terms with the virus."
With the race to find a cure gathering pace around the globe, the European Union's medicines agency suggested on Thursday that based on data from trials under way, a vaccine for the coronavirus could be ready in a year.
Announcing the forecast at a video news conference, Marco Cavaleri, the head of European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) biological health threats and vaccines strategy, stressed that it was a "best-case scenario". "We know also that there may be delays," he commented about reports that a vaccine could be ready as early as September.