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Aid groups ask UK gov to stop pharma ‘profiteering’ from COVID-19

As of this morning – Thursday April 16 – the current recorded case count for COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the UK has hit 98,476 with 12,868 deaths.

More than 20 international aid organisations, including MSF UK, are urging the UK government to ensure that any COVID-19 vaccines developed with UK taxpayers’ money are produced ‘patent-free’ to prevent pharma corporations profiteering from them.

In an open letter, more than 20 aid organisations and academics insist that the government should impose strict conditions on UK funding for drugs, to safeguard against prices being set at “unaffordably high” levels.

It should guarantee equitable access to any new drug “by imposing strict public interest conditions on all UK funding”, as well as backing a proposal from the president of Costa Rica for a ‘global patent pool’.

A patent pool would allow all technologies designed for the detection, prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19 to be openly available, making it impossible for any one company or country to monopolise them, the group noted.

Although essential medicines are often developed with public funding, as corporations then manufacture these and claim intellectual property protection over them they can charge “whatever price they want,” the group notes, and argues that this “prevents huge numbers of people from accessing vital medicines, and adds substantially to the costs of public healthcare systems that must purchase them, including the NHS.”

“It also prevents collaboration in the research of medicines, as businesses are not transparent in their development of drugs.”

“The UK is putting millions of pounds of public money into global efforts to finding a vaccine for COVID-19. This money cannot be handed to pharmaceutical companies with no strings attached. Conditions must be added to these funds to ensure that there are no patents or profiteering on any future COVID-19 vaccine,” said MSF UK executive director Vickie Hawkins.

“We have to stop putting the economic interests of pharmaceutical companies above people’s health. This needs to start now.”

This move follows the signing and earlier letter from 130 cross-party MPs, led by the the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Vaccinations for All, calling on the government to guarantee equitable global access to any COVID-19 vaccine.