Pfizer Launches Initiative to Share Medicines with Low Income Countries 
Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer.

Pfizer will provide all of its current and future patent-protected medicines and vaccines available in the United States and the European Union on a not-for-profit basis to 45 lower-income countries where some 1.5 billion people live.

However, critics have questioned whether the announcement has been timed to undermine a possible waiver on intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines due to be discussed at the World Trade Organization (WTO) next month.

The Pfizer initiative, an ‘Accord for a Healthier World’, was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday.

Under the Accord, Pfizer said it would initially provide 23 medicines and vaccines that treat infectious diseases, certain cancers, and rare and inflammatory diseases. 

Making these medicines and vaccines more readily available has the potential to treat non-communicable and infectious diseases that claim the lives of nearly one million people each year in these countries and chronic diseases that significantly impact quality of life for at least half a million more. 

Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal and Uganda are the first five countries to commit to join the Accord. Health officials in these countries will help identify and resolve hurdles beyond supply to inform the roll-out in all 45 lower-income countries.

“As we learned in the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout, supply is only the first step to helping patients. We will work closely with global health leaders to make improvements in diagnosis, education, infrastructure, storage and more. Only when all the obstacles are overcome can we end healthcare inequities and deliver for all patients,” said Pfizer Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla.

The Accord countries include 27 of the world´s lowest-income countries as well as 18 lower-middle-income countries that have transitioned from low to lower-middle-income classification in the last ten years. 

Distraction from TRIPS waiver?

However, Julia Kosgei, policy advisor to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, described the accord as an attempt by Pfizer to improve its reputation.

“It’s right that some countries will not have to pay Pfizer’s rip-off prices for certain vaccines and treatments. But Pfizer is once again gate-keeping who can and can’t manufacture and access these lifesaving vaccines and medicines. Many lower-middle and middle-income countries will continue to pay through the nose for lifesaving drugs they can’t afford,” said Kosgei.

“We are weeks away from an important vote on pharma intellectual property at the World Trade Organization [TRIPS waiver]. And Pfizer has calculated that this move will ease the heat generated by its appalling conduct over the last two years.”

Meanwhile, James Love of Knowledge Ecology International (KEI) said that while the deal drew attention to the need for expanded access to medicines, “there are so many questions about what the initiative really is and is not”. 

He also questioned the timing of the announcement.

“What I would like to see would be: all the agreements and program details made public; an independent evaluation of what constitutes a ‘non-profit’ price, and annual, truly independent and transparent evaluations of what actually happens,” said Love.

“For most companies, these announcements are primarily offered to serve public relations objectives with very little follow-through, very little transparency and no evaluations on what actually happens.”  

Cancer Coalition

Meanwhile, the Access to Oncology Medicines (ATOM) coalition was launched this week, and announced that AstraZeneca, BeiGene, Bristol Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, Novartis, Roche, Sanofi and Teva had joined the partnership to improve access to essential cancer medicines in poorer nations.


Image Credits: Flickr – World Economic Forum.

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