(Reuters) – Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates called for COVID-19 drugs and an eventual vaccine to be made available to countries and people that need them most, not to the “highest bidder,” saying relying on market forces would prolong the deadly pandemic.
“If we just let drugs and vaccines go to the highest bidder, instead of to the people and the places where they are most needed, we’ll have a longer, more unjust, deadlier pandemic,” Gates, a founder of Microsoft, said in a video released on Saturday during a virtual COVID-19 conference organized by the International AIDS Society.
“We need leaders to make these hard decisions about distributing based on equity, not just on market-driven factors.”
With hundreds of vaccine projects under way and governments in Europe and the United States investing billions of dollars in research, trials and manufacturing, there is concern that richer nations could scoop up promising medicines against the new coronavirus, leaving developing countries empty-handed.
The European Commission and the World Health Organization have warned of an unhealthy competition in the scramble for a medicine seen as key to saving lives and resolving economic chaos sowed by virus, while some officials in Washington have indicated they would seek to prioritize U.S residents.
Gates said efforts begun two decades ago to battle the global HIV/AIDS crisis, when countries came together to eventually make medicines available in most of the world including Africa, can serve as a model for making COVID-19 medicines widely accessible.
As examples he pointed to the 2002-created Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the U.S.-based President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief to get medicines to people to combat some of the world’s deadliest diseases as examples.
“One of the best lessons in the fight against HIV/AIDS is the importance of building this large, fair global distribution system to get the drugs out to everyone,” Gates said.
(Reporting by John Miller in Zurich; Editing by Howard Goller)