breach of patents

Image: Anderson Antonangelo


A panacea for the global crisis?

There is no lack of historical examples that illustrate how the right of access to health allowed a change in the peculiar negative relations of Realpolitik for positive solidarity cooperation, especially when the objective is to overcome a common public health enemy.

Penicillin, produced on a large scale and without restrictions since 1943, in the context of World War II, served to treat wounded soldiers from all parties involved in the clashes; More recently, during the worst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the agreement that allowed the manufacture of generic drugs against the virus overcame private, commercial and bureaucratic interests, saving millions of people and developing, until today, solid programs in the fight against HIV in several countries.

What about the Covid-19 pandemic? Currently, the debate about breaking patents or not seems to inhumanely overlap an ethical obligation to save lives, prevailing commercial interests and bureaucratic inertia.

Nearly three million lives were claimed in approximately two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. As many dead as the battles of Verdun and Stalingrad combined. We know that there is only one way to overcome this crisis: universal vaccination. However, much of the world is currently facing a shortage of vaccines, as if history did not provide, in an almost exhaustive way, examples of mechanisms and actions to deal with health crises more quickly and less bureaucratically.

Brazil, as well as other emerging countries such as India, has realized throughout recent history that foreign policy and access to decent healthcare are two sides of the same coin. It has multiplied its cooperation efforts with different countries — often located in the southern hemisphere —, characterizing what is known in International Relations as “South-South Cooperation”, adopting a demanding posture towards the international community as a whole in an active manner and building effective tools in soft-power in foreign policy.

In international organizations, the haughty posture is no different and has been a constant in Brazilian foreign policy since the creation of the League of Nations. The demand for facilitating access to health, in general, is a frequent agenda in claims at the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and in several others.

Such global involvement reflects both the interest of the outside world in the potential of emerging countries in various domains and the increasingly latent expression of these countries in projecting themselves on the international stage in a more active way. It reflects the need to approach health in a solidary and collective way. This is how we opened the doors to an effective global policy against AIDS in different countries, overcoming different barriers. Could it be different now?

Patents cannot be an obstacle to universal and rapid vaccination. The situation is one of extraordinary global emergency, and requires an extraordinary and emergency solution. Access to vaccines should not be determined by the purchasing power of each country, nor by the private interests of pharmaceutical companies. It is not logical that we have managed to overcome various health crises throughout history in this way; it makes no sense that we have developed a range of safe and effective vaccines in such a short time, but with access hampered by commercial, political and bureaucratic barriers.

We know that it is a complex, uncomfortable, perhaps slow process. But what is the alternative? Wait? It is enough to look around us to realize that this is not an option.

*Luis Filipe de Souza Porto is a Master's student in International Relations at the Federal University of ABC (PPGRI/UFABC).


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