Devex CheckUp: Will US backing save the COVID-19 IP waiver?

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In a stunning reversal, the United States announced on Wednesday that it was ready to back the proposal for waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines at WTO. While this is a welcome step, the fight for equitable distribution of vaccines is far from over. What are the next steps and what will it take to achieve them?

• Activists are hopeful the shift in U.S. support will encourage other high-income nations such as the U.K. and Canada to rethink their opposition. They are now pressuring the government and companies to transfer that technology through the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP, Andrew Green reports.

• The Biden administration’s announcement is already having an impact. The EU expressed its readiness “to discuss how the US proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective,” says EU head Ursula Von Der Leyen. Norway — another staunch opponent of the waiver so far — has also indicated its support to find a “necessary solution.”

• Calling the U.S. announcement a "remarkable expression of leadership," Africa CDC head Dr. John Nkengasong urges other countries to support the waiver. "When the history of this pandemic is written … we will remember not just the loud voices of those who did not support us but we will also remember the silence of our friends in this battle," he says.

Read: US backs waiver for intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines

THE BRITISH ARE GOING

U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced last year that the government would temporarily cut its aid budget by billions of pounds. Still, even impermanent reductions can cause serious damage.

• The U.K. is the second-largest bilateral donor for polio eradication and has pledged £400 million ($556.4 million) to GPEI through 2023. But with the aid cut, GPEI tells Jenny that critical work in the global response to polio outbreaks in 25 countries is now at risk.

• Health workers in Malawi fear that significant aid cuts to the United Nations Population Fund and a flagship U.K. program in sexual and reproductive health will impact family planning services in the country. Madalitso Wills Kateta reports for Devex on the increase in teenage pregnancies, as well deaths due to unsafe abortions, that this could entail.

• The 83% cut in U.K. aid to UNAIDS will affect the provision of HIV prevention and treatment services and impact the human rights of LGBTQ people. In Kenya, where homosexuality is a criminal offense, discrimination is already keeping some LGBTQ people from accessing health care.

• Amid the U.K. aid funding cuts, health experts are looking to the U.S. for support. President Joe Biden has accomplished a lot in his first 100 days in office, but experts say he could go further in the international response to COVID-19.

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Health care delivery is up in the air

In March, the world’s first drone delivery of COVID-19 vaccines arrived at a health center in Ghana’s Ashanti region. African countries are increasingly using the devices to deliver health solutions, but Rumbi Chakamba finds that small pilot projects often disappear into the “valley of death” as they try to scale up.

Devex Pro: Scaling drone health solutions in Africa

The future is uncertain

An African Union deal for 270 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson didn’t materialize. The Pan-African body then signed a different agreement with J&J to provide up to 400 million doses for the continent — but is that deal guaranteed to happen? Sara Jerving looks into why vaccine contracts fall through.

Call for opinions

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Senior Global Health Security Advisor
U.S. Agency for International Development
Hanoi, Vietnam

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We want to hear from you for a special opinions feature we are developing! Should aid and development workers be prioritized for vaccination? Please shoot us an email at editor@devex.com reflecting briefly on your own experience and what vaccine access has meant for you and your work in development.

Avoidable delays

As of Monday, 25 flights loaded with 300 tonnes of COVID-19 relief supplies had landed in India — but some are concerned that drugs and oxygen cylinders have been held up by red tape. India’s central government says distribution has already begun, but media reports suggest that materials were only sent to states starting Monday, with some still waiting for lifesaving supplies.

What we’re reading

The latest Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is now officially over. [Devex]

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration may soon approve the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds. [Financial Times]

Battling a surge in cases, Cambodia has ordered journalists to stop reporting from coronavirus “red zones.” [France 24]

About the authors

  • Amruta Byatnal

    Amruta Byatnal is an Associate Editor at Devex based in New Delhi. She reports on global health, gender and human rights. Previously, she worked for News Deeply and The Hindu. She is a graduate of Cornell University where she studied international development.
  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.