The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) wants the region to develop platforms for producing and distributing new vaccines and medicines as part of “a concerted regional health strategy”.
ECLAC’s Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena, addressing the 21st meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), presented progress on the “Comprehensive Plan for Health Self-Sufficiency”, a programmatic blueprint that ECLAC is developing at the request of CELAC for strengthening the production and distribution of medicines, particularly vaccines, in regional countries and for reducing external dependence.
Bárcena addressed the situation of health-care systems and the pharmaceutical industry in the region amid the pandemic, along with priority actions to be implemented to strengthen them and the components of the “Comprehensive Plan for Health Self-Sufficiency.”
She noted that Latin America and the Caribbean is the region most affected by the pandemic, with just 8.4 per cent of the world’s population but 32.5 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths worldwide.
She said that poverty affects 209 million people and extreme poverty, 82 million, adding that “informality and unemployment have yet to recover.
“We are caught in the trap of middle-income countries,” Bárcena said, warning about unequal access to vaccines as she noted “the asymmetries within the region and those vis-à-vis the rest of the world”.
She said that, in Latin America and the Caribbean, just 16.8 per cent of the population has completed the full vaccination scheme; while, in the United States and Canada, that figure rises to 49.3 per cent of the population, with a surplus of vaccines.
Meanwhile, she noted that Europe has 44.6 per cent of its population vaccinated.
“We are concerned that some countries’ acquisitions exceed their vaccination needs. The European Union, United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Japan account for 43.9 per cent of purchase commitments, with just 12.9 per cent of the global population.”
She said the health-care manufacturing industry in the region is marked by a low level of technological development and high dependence on the production of multinational companies and imports.
In 2019, Bárcena said imports doubled the amount of exports, with the deficit exceeding US$20 billion.
“Why did this pandemic catch us at such a bad time? Because we import everything; that is part of the problem. Our national and regional industry produces generic drugs but not innovative medicines. We have very low investment in research and development, which we must boost.”
The ECLAC’s executive secretary detailed the eight priority areas of the “Comprehensive Plan for Health Self-Sufficiency”, along with its five lines of action.
The priority areas include joint purchasing by public health systems, consortium for financing research and production, clinical trial platforms, intellectual property, an inventory of regional capacities, regulatory standards, the development of regional suppliers, and universal access to vaccination and primary health care.
The five lines of action on which progress has been made, and on which further progress is proposed at a regional or sub-regional level, consist of a regional mechanism for vaccine purchases, the creation of consortium to accelerate vaccine development, platforms for clinical trials, access to intellectual property and an inventory of regional capacities.
Bárcena emphasised the importance of strengthening existing regional mechanisms for joint vaccine purchases, such as the Revolving Fund of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), PAHO’s Strategic Fund and the Pan-American Network for Drug Regulatory Harmonization.
Furthermore, she stressed the relevance of articulating sectors and actors through sub-regional integration bodies, such as the Central American Integration System (SICA), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and the Pacific Alliance.
Bárcena said that the plan proposes four pillars for joint action, convening a broad range of national and regional actors: technology development, product development, manufacturing and purchasing, and delivery and universal access.