Experts call for fair distribution of “the common good‌” amidst shortages of COVID-19 vaccines

With threats of a third wave of the COVID-19 looming over countries such as Ghana, coupled with the scramble for more vaccines due to global shortages, leading economists and health experts are calling for a health innovation ecosystem governed by “the common good.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Council on the Economics of Health for All, made up of leading economists and health experts from across the globe, is urging governments, the scientific and medical community and private sector leaders to re-design the health innovation ecosystem toward delivering health.

A Council brief made available to‌ ‌is adding its voice to the growing calls for urgent action in various areas, saying available “vaccine doses should be redistributed immediately, not as acts of charity, but as a shared imperative for pandemic control and inclusive, equitable and sustainable access.”

It said existing mechanisms set up to address various issues including the COVAX, ACT-Accelerator, and the COVID Technology Access Pool, should be utilised and “strengthened, not as an approach to fix market failures, but as turning points for creating market-shaping approaches.”

In the Council’s first brief, its members called on the public and private sectors to work collaboratively to deliver needed vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and other essential health supplies that are available equitably to those who can benefit.

Noting that technology transfer and building manufacturing capacity must be supported and financed and it should not be the responsibility or property of any single actor but rather as a collective responsibility towards building greater health security and resilience in all regions.

“Knowledge should not be kept as privatized intellectual property under monopoly control but considered collective rewards from a collective value creation process to be openly shared and exchanged.”

The Council, which was established by the World Health Organisation in November 2020, is chaired by noted economist Professor Mariana Mazzucato, Professor of the Economics of Innovation and Public Value and Founding Director in the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London.

The brief recommends both immediate and long-term actions and urged all stakeholders to work towards creating a health innovation ecosystem characterized by purpose-driven and symbiotic public-private partnerships that put the common good front and centre.

Adding that mobilizing “money to throw at solutions that fail to address the underlying causes of longstanding structural problems will not be sufficient.”

“We all must look forward towards re-imagining health innovation as part of a new economic ecosystem that can deliver Health for All.”

It said some building blocks are critical to build an inclusive end-to-end health innovation ecosystem able to deliver the appropriate medical technologies required to achieve health for all equitably.

Among these are the need to building resilient manufacturing capacity and infrastructure and introducing conditionalities for public investments to build symbiotic public-private partnerships.

The Council has made it clear that just patching up the existing system will not work since deep changes are needed on how intellectual property rights are governed to drive collective intelligence, how corporate governance is structured, and how the benefits of public investments are shared to avoid the current dynamic of sharing risks but privatizing rewards.

By Eunice Menka
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