Right to health is a fundamental right that is under the protection of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also the International Convention on Economic Social and Cultural Rights which has the highest number of state parties. All state parties have certain obligations to fulfill various tasks and to provide necessary tools to achieve the right to health.
In the Alma ata Declaration in 1978, WHO underlines that right to health is one of the fundamental human rights and identifies primary health care as the key to the attainment of the goal of Health for All.
The world faced numerous outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics throughout its history. Such pandemics still pose the most serious threat to humanity in the 21st Century. COVID-19 was added to the list of diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, and new forms of influenza. While it is fact that the current statistics of COVID-19 cannot be compared to the Spanish flu, 50 million deaths, it is clear that the current pandemic has already made destructive impacts. The level of preparedness to the pandemic was not satisfactory though WHO predicted that a worldwide influenza might pose the most serious threat to our health at the global level.
WHO is the center of health management mechanisms and key element of international law on health. It is also the biggest expert organisation of the United Nations and the key player of the international cooperation to eliminate COVID-19. Since the very beginning of its history, WHO is the central body to fight against outbreaks, diseases and pandemics as well as to consult about regulations of health systems.
As known the key tool to eliminate COVID-19 is mass vaccination. When several vaccines were approved by relevant health authorities, there was hope for mass vaccination in all over the world. However, companies’ eager to make profit and to become richer as well as rich countries’ pre-orders created a new layer of inequality. Some countries ordered huge amount of vaccines, in some cases more than what their population needs, even before they were produced by companies. On the other hand, there are many countries with no single dose. This fact impedes the control of vaccine at the global level. The WHO Director calls it “catastrophic moral failure” which is very true. However, the WHO Director has certain responsibilities and obligations to manage the pandemic. International Health Regulations (2005), which has 196 state parties, clearly defines the legal framework of measures to be taken under an emergency situation e.g. the pandemic. The regulations also define the coodination task that WHO is in charge of. Unfortunately, WHO acts as an organisation that “knows everything yet takes no concrete action”.
COVID-19 is a global problem so that requires international cooperation based on goodwill codes. This is the only way to manage and overcome COVID-19. Otherwise, there will be destructive impacts on humanity. In this respect, the International Health Regulations need to be revised to introduce sanctions to state parties that do not fulfill their obligations. There is no binding and effective mechanisms to convince state parties to act in line with their obligations. There is also a need for shift in states-based mechanisms to multi-stakeholders based mechanisms. It will enable civil society organisations, trade unions and health organisations such as medical organisations and medical chambers to get involved in the process and to make contributions to solutions. It will also improve the quality and efficiency of health management systems.
Due to the current purchasing system and pre-orders as well as monopolisation, the vaccines bring good news to the citizens of developed countries only. However, there must be measures to cover all citizens and individuals irrespective of economic and social status and geography. COVID-19’s impacts on vulnerable groups such as refugees, children, elderly people, workers and people with special needs must be minimised by measures and vaccines. Currently, there is a mentality based on financial capacity of individuals and countries. Developed countries have no problem with ordering and storing so many doses on the ground that they have enough money. Pharmaceutical companies feel that they ave responsibilities to their share holders rather than citizens whose taxes enable them to produce these vaccines.
Developing countries’ right to vaccine cannot be subjected to vaccine monopolies’ grace and arbitrary will. Developed countries and strong private sector actors must provide at least technical and financial support to developing countries. It is an obvious fact that no developing countries have enough capacity eliminate destructive impacts of the outbreak. These countries must be supported so that they can achieve the required capacity to fight against the pandemic. These countries constitute majority of the international community and their incapability affects also other societies including the developed countries. A global health management system with protective health measures is extremely important to eliminate the risks of the outbreak. In this respect,
Patent and intellectual property of vaccines and other medicines COVID-19 should not belong to developers only. Any factory should be able to produce these vaccines and medicines. Of course, these companies must share their profit with developers. All countries must have permission to produce vaccines until COVID-19 is fully eliminated.
WHO must take actions more than appealing to our collective conscience as in the case of “moral failure” and actively fulfill its responsibilities to coordinate efforts. It must remind that vaccines belong to everyone and there is no patent on them. “Patents on vaccines must be suspended until the pandemic is fully eliminated.”
As in the case of pre-COVID-19 situation, capitalism causes the death of millions. Jonas Salk is a prominent example of good practice; he says “Could you patent the Sun? I do not want patent since it belongs to humanity.” We expect that AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, Gamaleya and Sinovac companies must act on the basis of this principle. We call on authorities and companies to exempt vaccines from patents. These vaccines, which serve as the Sun, must at the services of everyone. Could you patent the Sun?
SES and KESK Executive Committees