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Collaboration is key for equitable access

The Covid-19 pandemic has prompted the most remarkable ambitious and collaborative response from across the world in human history. New and formidable partnerships have been forged across the healthcare sector to hasten the discovery, manufacturing, and delivery of cutting-edge innovations. In the pharmaceutical industry, scientists continue to work around the clock to develop and test new vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics and innovation is unfolding at unprecedented levels producing what previously would have taken decades in a fraction of the time.    

As advancements are made in finding vaccines and therapies to address Covid-19, the topic of global access is rightfully taking centre stage, because simply developing these innovations is not enough: they need to be made available to the world’s population.  

To ensure that there is equitable access to the vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics needed to end the pandemic, a number of member companies of the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (Ipasa) along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently signed an unprecedented communiqué pledging to fight against Covid-19 collectively.    

Ipasa members are already making good on this pledge by working to ensure access to a broad array of lifesaving products. A shining example can be found in Johnson & Johnson, which will allocate up to 500-million doses of its vaccine candidate, should it prove safe and effective, to lower-income countries, with delivery beginning mid-2021. The vaccine will be provided at a global not-for-profit basis for emergency pandemic use.   

Amgen is involved in a global antibody manufacturing collaboration to significantly increase the supply capacity available for potential Covid-19 therapies intended to benefit low- and middle-income countries. 

Novartis is making 15 drugs that treat key symptoms of Covid-19 available to low- and lower-middle income countries at zero profit until a vaccine or curative treatment is found. 

In addition to this, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also entered into an agreement with rapid diagnostic test producers Abbott and SD Biosensor to make available affordable, high-quality Covid-19 antigen rapid tests for low- and middle-income countries – a remarkable move that will enable expansion of testing and provide results within 15-30 minutes. These are all examples of groundbreaking collaboration within the healthcare sector to fight Covid-19. 

Collaboration towards achieving global access will not only help end the pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than a million people worldwide and upended our sense of normalcy, but it will also lay the groundwork for a healthier, more secure world. 

Our best and brightest are rising to the occasion and meeting this challenge head-on. By working together as social partners, we can harness their ingenuity and creativity to ensure equitable access and that the world is better prepared for future outbreaks.  

In addition to ensuring global access, as social partners we must work together to build and maintain public confidence in medical and scientific innovations, develop the infrastructure needed to deliver vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as implement regulatory processes to speed up access to new tools.  

Already, many Ipasa member companies involved in the search for new vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics have started engagements with governments across sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, to understand how they can support their national Covid-19 response and strategies.  

Global access is monumentally complex, and far beyond the power or responsibility of any one organisation to deliver. It requires governments, industry, NGOs, and others to combine resources and diverse toolboxes. Responsibility cannot be abdicated to one group or another, it is the moral duty of everyone to unite in order to make equitable access a reality.  

Let us bridge the gaps and continue to fight Covid-19 together.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Bada Pharasi
Bada Pharasi is chief operations officer of the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (Ipasa)

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