Health equity in economic and trade policies

Profiteering from vaccine inequity: a crime against humanity?
Hassan F, Yarney G, Abbasi K: BMJ, 374:n2027, 2021

The rich world is refusing to share vaccines with poorer countries speedily or equitably. Whereas 60% of the population in the UK is fully vaccinated, in Uganda it is only 1%. The 50 least wealthy nations, home to 20% of the world’s population, have received just 2% of all vaccine doses. The authors argue that the rich world should be ashamed. They present evidence of the corporate profits being made on vaccines and posit that pandemic profiteering is a human rights violation that demands investigation and scrutiny. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right “to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. The excess of deaths in Africa, Latin America and Asia is attributed to: a free market, profit driven enterprise based on patent and intellectual property protection, combined with a lack of political will. Contrary to claims, it is possible to make enough vaccines for the world and state that the moral scandal, enabled by corporate and political permission of mass death, is tantamount to a crime against humanity.

Tobacco supply and demand strategies used in African countries
Crosbie E; Defrank V; Egbe CO: Bulletin of the World Health Organisation 99(7), 539-540, 2021

The number of smokers in Africa is anticipated to rise from 15.8% in 2010 to 21.9% by 2030, the largest projected increase in the world. The authors examine the role of the main tobacco companies operating in Africa: Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Japan Tobacco International, in this rise, and in the illicit trade in tobacco to force market entry into new and emerging markets. The authors point to the tactics used, including: preventing policy measures designed to control illicit tobacco trade by entering into voluntary partnerships with law enforcement and custom agencies, with governments not effectively enforcing existing laws; and using promotional tactics, including price reductions, coupons and giveaways to increase the demand and usage of tobacco. Tobacco companies consistently claim on their websites, in the media and in policy circles that they aim to stop illicit tobacco trade and only market to adult smokers. However, the authors raise that these tactics are recruiting a new generation of smokers in Africa.

Bayer breathing life into Gates’ failed GM drought tolerant maize: Agrarian extractivism continues unabated on the African continent
Masinjila S; Zendah R: African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), South Africa, 2021

This paper alerts to the implications of a Gate’s funded project, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), now known as TELA, for sub-Saharan countries. Bayer, with a stated aim of solving smallholder farmers’ poverty woes, is stated by the authors to be using South Africa’s permissive biosafety regulatory environment to multiply obsolete and deficient genetically modified (GM) seeds, for export to the countries in the project, despite lack of success with drought tolerance and insect resistance in South Africa. The paper indicates that the industry’s claims of the insect resistant trait’s ability to combat the now persistent fall armyworm in Africa have been invalidated with the emergence of resistance in countries in North and South America, including Brazil. The authors question why African countries are allowing the dumping of these obsolete technologies into their countries and urge African governments to reject the imposition of outdated GM technologies and to adopt workable and holistic solutions, including to support food systems.

Door opens for TRIPS waiver textual negotiations
Third World Network (TWN) Info Service on Health Issues: TWN, issue 6, 2021

With the Biden-Harris Administration taking the United States out of the "blocking" countries, all eyes are now on Europe and Japan among others as momentum grows for text-based negotiations on the temporary TRIPS waiver for combating the Covid-19 pandemic. The World Trade Organisation director-general Ms Okonjo-Iweala met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the TRIPS waiver is likely to have been included in the talks cannot be ruled out in the wake of a global call from 100 former leaders, including half of the US Democratic Congressmen and women, Nobel Laureates, and around 400 international civil society organizations, to agree to the TRIPS waiver. The EU's evolving positions seem to be focused on a "third way" approach—promoted by the European Union and several members of the Ottawa Group- that seeks to address issues such as export restrictions, more bilateral and other licensing agreements, and ensuring the supply of vaccines by countries which have huge stocks of unused vaccines. The authors note that the insistence on a "360 degree view" on the waiver could involve a payment from the waiver co-sponsors, as powerful pharmaceutical companies have also stepped up their campaign against the waiver.

Neo-colonial economies and ecologies, smallholder farmers and multiple shocks: The case of cyclones Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique and Zimbabwe
African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB)L ACB, South Africa, 2020

The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) exposes how the two cyclones that battered Mozambique and parts of Malawi and Zimbabwe in March and April 2019 must be understood against the backdrop of the political and economic drivers of ecological degradation. These include development loans and aid, rapacious natural resource extraction and social and cultural displacement. The authors examine the interconnections between climate change, deforestation, agricultural expansion and resource extractivism, as drivers of social and political instability and food insecurity in these countries, while enriching a small political elite. The paper unpacks how the national and international disaster response to the cyclones inadequately addressed the scale of the overlapping crises that the cyclones revealed, calling for approaches that go beyond narrow disaster management to one based on equity and justice in local economies and in relationships with the global economy.

We need to rethink the whole international economic system in terms of rights for poor countries
Piketty T: Le Monde, 2021

By refusing to lift the patents on vaccines against Covid-19, the author argues that western high income countries have shown an inability to take into account the needs of the South. Beyond the right to produce, the commentary proposes that the debate on the reform of international taxation cannot be reduced to a discussion between rich countries aimed at sharing the profits currently located in tax havens. Plans being discussed at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development envisage that multinationals will make a single declaration of their profits at the global level, in itself is an excellent thing. But when it comes to allocating this tax base between countries, the plan is to use a mixture of criteria (wage bills and sales in different territories) which in practice will result in rich countries receiving more than 95% of the reallocated profits, leaving negligible funds for poor countries. The author suggests that low income countries need to be at the table in such discussions.

Global Wage Report 2020-21: Wages and minimum wages in the time of COVID-19
International Labour Organisation, Geneva, ILO, 2020

This ILO report examines the evolution of real wages globally and by region, as well as the relationship between minimum wages and inequality, and the wage impacts of COVID-19 . It identifies the conditions under which minimum wages can reduce inequality and how adequate minimum wages, statutory or negotiated, can play a key role in a human-centred recovery from the pandemic.

WTO COVID-19 TRIPS waiver proposal: Myths, realities and an opportunity for governments to protect access to lifesaving medical tools in a pandemic
Medecins Sans Frontieres: Access Campaign, 2021

One of the challenges faced in the COVID-19 pandemic is the negative impact that intellectual property (IP) barriers have had in the past and are anticipated to have on the scale up of manufacturing and supply of lifesaving COVID-19 medical tools across the world. Because the pandemic is an exceptional global crisis, the World Trade Organization (WTO) can invoke a waiver of certain IP rights on these technologies under WTO rules. Given this, South Africa and India submitted a landmark proposal earlier this year to the WTO requesting that WTO members waive four categories of IP rights – copyright, industrial designs, patents and undisclosed information under the Agreement of Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) until the majority of the world population receives effective vaccines and develops immunity to COVID-19. In the course of discussion, opponents of the TRIPS waiver proposal have raised arguments against the waiver. This brief presents the reasons for the waiver, and addresses the counter arguments to the points raised by those opposing it.

Developed countries continue to block TRIPS waiver proposal
TWN: Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Nov20/24), November 2020

Following the waiver proposal to suspend various provisions of the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States, the European Union, Japan, and Switzerland among others are reported to have adopted “stonewalling” tactics to block progress towards a General Council decision on this issue. These countries have described the waiver as a departure from the past WTO agreements, lacking specific measures, arguing also that not protecting intellectual property (IP) will reduce investment in medical technology. In response South Africa commented that current “bilateral deals do not demonstrate global collaboration but rather reinforce nationalism, enlarging chasms of inequality.” India said that while “the TRIPS flexibilities do allow limited policy space for public health, they were never designed to address a health crisis of this magnitude (such as the COVID-19 pandemic).” The waiver proposal has come into a global stage where it is increasingly clear that the developing and least-developed countries are unlikely to get easy and affordable access for the new therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19, calling for human lives to take precedence over the profits of the big pharmaceutical companies.

Feral Atlas: The More-Than-Human Anthropocene
Tsing A; Deger J; Saxena A; Zhou F: Stanford University, doi: 10.21627/2020fa, 2020

Feral Atlas invites you to explore the ecological worlds created when nonhuman entities become tangled up with human infrastructure projects. Seventy-nine field reports from scientists, humanists, and artists show you how to recognize “feral” ecologies, that is, ecologies that have been encouraged by human-built infrastructures, but which have developed and spread beyond human control. These infrastructural effects, Feral Atlas argues, are the Anthropocene. Playful, political, and insistently attuned to more-than-human histories, Feral Atlas does more than catalogue sites of imperial and industrial ruin. Stretching conventional notions of maps and mapping, it draws on the relational potential of the digital to offer new ways of analysing—and apprehending—the Anthropocene; while acknowledging danger, it demonstrates how in situ observation and transdisciplinary collaboration can cultivate vital forms of recognition and response to the urgent environmental challenges of our times.