Maldives joins global alliance to share coronavirus tools
Maldives has signed up to be part of an initiative by 30 countries and the World Health Organisation aimed at sharing vaccines, medicines and diagnostic tools to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
While the developing nations’ push led by Costa Rica, called the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, was welcomed by groups including Doctors Without Borders, a drug industry alliance questioned if it would really boost collaboration or broaden access to Covid-19 medicines.
The WHO effort comes amid concerns rich countries pumping resources into finding vaccines — more than 100 are in development — will muscle their way to the front of the queue, once a candidate succeeds.
Switzerland, home of big drugmakers Roche and Novartis, has also raised fears of “vaccine nationalism,” saying it wants to ensure fair access.
“Vaccines, tests, diagnostics, treatments and other key tools in the coronavirus response must be made universally available as global public goods,” Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado said, of the voluntary initiative.
The effort, originally proposed in March and officially launched on Friday, aims to provide a one-stop shop for scientific knowledge, data and intellectual property amid a pandemic that has infected more than 5.8 million people and killed some 360,000.
The WHO issued a “Solidarity Call to Action”, asking other stakeholders to join the push.
However, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations raised concerns about undermining intellectual property protections, which the industry group said enable collaboration and will be needed after the pandemic is over, to prepare health systems for new challenges.
“By urging licences or non-enforcement declarations for Covid-19 treatments and vaccines to be granted on a non-exclusive global basis, the ‘Solidarity Call to Action’ promotes a one-size-fits all model that disregards the specific circumstances of each situation, each product and each country,” the federation said.
Countries to sign up are Argentina, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Mexico, Mozambique, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, Sudan, the Netherlands, East Timor and Uruguay, the WHO said.
On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.
Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.
A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 1,591.
Five deaths have been reported and 242 have made full recoveries. Five remain in intensive care.
The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.
The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, schools, colleges and universities.
Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.
Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.
A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.
Note: This article contains reporting by Reuters.