Health for all? The conflict between dominant social groups and universal rights is once again exploding loud and clear. It’s blowing up the fictions, the lies and highlighting the mystifications and the harmful consequences of the “world” response of the powerful to Covid-19. To date, representatives of the populations of more than 90 countries in the world, “low-income” as the powerful define them, are willing to defend the request for the suspension of patents on medicines and vaccines against Covid-19, a request that has already been rejected and which is once again strongly rejected by the most powerful countries in the occidental world.
On the 17th December, just one week before Christmas, we will see whether the rights to life of hundreds of millions of human beings will prevail over the purely economic interests of the dominant groups in about fifteen so-called “high-income” countries. Already the fact that the decisive conflict takes place in an institution created and imposed on the world by the powerful (the World Trade Organisation) and not within the UN and the World Health Organisation is a mockery of the international community’s claim to social justice. For years the powerful have continued to dominate and raid the lives of the Earth’s inhabitants deaf to the cries of justice and respect for the lives of present and future generations. “In the name of money (and might) ” will not change the position of dominant groups. But the citizens of the world can replace them. Let us begin with the abolition of private profit-making patents on life, which is a legalized theft of life.
A unique opportunity. Missed!
The 31st Special Session of the UN General Assembly, dedicated to the Covid-19 pandemic, was held on 3 and 4 December. It was “publicized” as a unique opportunity, a historic moment of crucial importance to define and implement joint actions worldwide among all stakeholders, both public and private. The objective proclaimed: “to guarantee access to therapies to combat Covid-19 on a fair and affordable basis (…) so that no one is left behind”. More than 80 heads of state and government and more than 100 ministers of health and foreign affairs have spoken.
Unfortunately, the worldwide baking of words did not even produce good “chatter” (typical Italian Carnival sweets). The “unique opportunity” was not seized. In the face of world problems and challenges – the powerful had said – world answers are needed in the interest of all. Well, the powerful have given “world” answers, but they have defined and imposed them on the rest of the world, in their interests.
The tone had already been set on 23 October at the level of the World Trade Organisation (WTO, TRIPs treaties). On that day, the “rich” countries of the “North” (United States, European Union, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan…) rejected the request made by South Africa and India, supported by the WHO (World Health Organization) and other countries of the South, to waive the application of patent rules in the fight against Covid-19. The temporary suspension was intended to allow people in impoverished countries to access and/or produce the necessary medicines and vaccines themselves locally. With their refusal, the rich “Western” countries of the North mocked the political and legal primacy of the right to health according to the rules and objectives set at the international level by the WHO on the commercial and industrial and financial interests promoted by the WTO.
Moreover, on 25 November, the European Commission approved a document on “A new EU Intellectual Property Strategy” in which the Commission proposes to strengthen the proprietary protection of European scientific and technical knowledge, making the granting of patents, and “European patents”, stronger, more widespread and extended to SMEs.
Far from eliminating the widening gap between rich and impoverished countries in the field of science and technology, the Commission is working towards a “national-European” policy of strengthening European power and competitiveness in science and technology. Like the United States, the Commission is above all afraid of losing the hegemony it shares with the United States in this field to China. Three-quarters of world vaccine production takes place in Europe (EU + non-EU countries such as the UK, Switzerland and Norway). The main companies dominating the world vaccine market are American and European! Under these conditions, on 3 and 4 December, the EU could only propose joint global actions on a rhetorical level!
Are our societies moving towards the end of any common global health policy inspired by justice, responsibility and solidarity?
I have been writing this text on 10 December, the 72nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Unfortunately, nothing concrete in terms of financial, economic and legislative conversion emerged from the UN Special Session on the Pandemic. According to the UN and WHO, the funds needed for the fight against Covid-19 are estimated at between $32 and $40 billion: it’s still a long way off. Worse: – the rich countries, representing 14% of the world’s population, have already bought individually (in competition) and jointly (to optimise the likelihood of access to vaccine doses) 60% of the expected doses available in 2021;
– the WHO has estimated that only 20% of the world’s population will have access to vaccines by 2021, the remaining 80% will have to wait until 2022, 2023;
– we are far from the funding promised for the fight against hunger, for the universal right to water, for refugees and displaced persons, for the education of children, for housing for all, i.e. in those fields on which the health of a country depends. The fight against impoverishment remains a policy of aid, of charity, not a fight to eradicate the structural factors that cause impoverishment;
– the countries that signed the Treaty of Paris undertook to allocate 100 billion a year from 2020 to the fight against climate disaster. Well, none of the powerful dare to say where the 100 billion is;
– we know, however, by whom and where the trillion and 800 billion were spent in 2019 on armaments, 25% of which would be enough to cover all the above-mentioned financial needs. Finally, we know that military spending will not decrease in 2020.
World leaders, including high-tech companies in the lead (Big Pharma, the GAFAM) make choices that are in fact crimes against humanity and against the Earth’s global community of life.
Let’s say things the way they are: universal rights to life are no longer a priority on the national, continental and world political agenda of the powerful. Rights have ceased to be a political and social priority, let alone an anthropological priority.
The conflict that broke out on 23 October in the WTO/TRIPs will return to force on 17 December because ninety “southern” countries have asked to discuss again the initial proposal of India and South Africa to waive the application of the rules on patents on medicines and vaccines against Covid-19. The reaction of the Northern countries remains negative. The fact that vaccines are now starting to be authorised pushes them to tighten their position. They feel stronger to impose their interests.
As responsible Inhabitants of the Earth with equal dignity, rights and duties, we must support the claims of the vast majority of the world’s population: no patents on vaccines. No profits from health. Medicines, vaccines are common global public goods – such as water, seeds and knowledge – and not the property of multinational companies.
Changing narratives about life and regulatory systems (economy = house rules). The proposals of the Agora of the Earth’s Inhabitants
The world situation is dramatic. This does not mean that it is impossible to reverse the trends. In the following, I would like to recall “in Twitter-style” the solutions that the Agora of the Earth’s Inhabitants submitted to the attention of the President of the UN General Assembly on the occasion of the Special Session on Covid-19. Our proposals were the subject of a consultation with associations, groups, movements and citizens’ networks during the month of November. We received 1,285 signed personal support emails from 53 countries.
We need to change the priorities of global finance by investing in the economy of global public goods. This requires the creation of a cooperative public health fund as part of a global deposit and loan fund for global public goods. It is also necessary to launch a global plan for immediate reductions in military spending and the conversion of its allocation to the development, production and distribution of public goods and services in the health sector and related water and agri-food sectors.
The universal right to life implies that essential goods and services for life cannot be privatised and dissociated from universal rights. Patents on life (and artificial intelligence) are an illogical example of the dissociation between goods indispensable to life and the right to life. It is necessary, immediately, to approve the abandonment, for the period 2021-2023, of the application of the rules on patents on living organisms and, as of 2024, to abolish private patents on living organisms and on artificial intelligence. All this, framed in a World Pact on Science for Life and Security for all the inhabitants of the Earth, an integral part of a process of building a new world political architecture capable of outlawing predatory finance. The “global security” of world public goods must be at the heart of this process. To this end, two important steps must be taken: the opening of a World Common House of Knowledge, based on the pooling of knowledge, experience, technical tools (Costa Rica’s case on health…) and the creation of a World Security Council for public goods and services (starting with health, water and knowledge).
The global societal challenge is equally clear and strong. When and how the dominated and impoverished people of the world will free themselves from the current society of domination?
History “repeats itself” but never in the same terms and manner as before. The struggles for the liberation of slaves, the struggles for the liberation of peoples, the struggles for the liberation of workers and women are now incorporated into the struggle for the liberation of humanity in its totality and wholeness.
We are in another story: from the liberation of the various “I’s” (individuals, groups) we are immersed in the liberation of “we” (the global community of life on Earth). In opposition to life dominated by stakeholders, we have begun to write the history of the common universality of life.