Over 140 global leaders and experts on Thursday issued an open letter urging world powers to guarantee that both a coronavirus vaccine and any treatment for Covid-19, when available, be free for everyone in order to put the "the interests of all humanity" ahead of those of the wealthiest corporations and governments.
The new letter, "Uniting Behind a People's Vaccine Against Covid-19," is signed by current and former heads of state including Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan and former Irish President Mary Robinson as well as other notable figures including former United Nations special rapporteur Philip Alston and economist and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.
"Faced with this crisis, we cannot carry on business as usual," Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand, said in a statement. "Diplomatic platitudes are not enough—we need legal guarantees, and we need them now."
The global call comes days ahead of the World Health Organization's World Health Assembly. At that virtual meeting, scheduled for Monday, the letter signatories say health ministers must remember the WHO's founding principle to help achieve "the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being."
Too often people's health comes second to profit.— Winnie Byanyima (@Winnie_Byanyima) May 14, 2020
Too often access to health care depends on how much money is in a person's pocket.
When a #COVID19 vaccine is developed, it must be the #PeoplesVaccine. It must be available to all people, in all countries, free of charge. pic.twitter.com/rlhGjU3xtV
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The letter calls on the World Health Assembly to "forge a global agreement that ensures rapid universal access to quality-assured vaccines and treatments with need prioritized above the ability to pay."
"Now is not the time to allow the interests of the wealthiest corporations and governments to be placed before the universal need to save lives, or to leave this massive and moral task to market forces," says the letter. "Access to vaccines and treatments as global public goods are in the interests of all humanity. We cannot afford for monopolies, crude competition, and near-sighted nationalism to stand in the way."
The letter says that health ministers should learn from the successes and failures in global efforts to tackle HIV, Ebola, and AIDS and hammer out an agreement with three key pillars: mandate worldwide sharing of Covid-19 information and technologies; roll out a rich nation-funded vaccine and technologies distribution plan; and guarantee free vaccine, treatment, and diagnostics with priority going towards front-line workers and the most vulnerable communities.
"Only a people's vaccine—with equality and solidarity at its core—can protect all of humanity and get our societies safely running again," the letter says. "A bold international agreement cannot wait."