As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Médecins Sans Frontières/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams around the world bring with them many lessons learned on how to deal with this particular coronavirus. , as well as decades of expertise in treating other infectious diseases.
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the pandemic two years ago, we have adapted our medical activities according to the new waves of the virus and have integrated COVID-19 care into most of our projects. We have responded to COVID-19 and adapted our projects to the threats posed by this new disease in more than 70 countries, from Yemen to Peru to the Democratic Republic of Congo. We have worked independently and with local health ministries to prevent transmission of the virus through vaccination and implementing infection prevention and control measures and have provided the best possible care to those who have it. contracted.
“Our teams have been able to adapt incredibly well to the pandemic and maintain the delivery of our medical services,” said Dr. Elena Nicco, infectious disease physician and medical coordinator for MSF’s COVID-19 task force. based in Brussels, at a recent MSF-Webcast conference in the United States. This includes in war zones in Yemen, where engaging with communities to meet people’s most urgent health needs and educate them about COVID-19 has been particularly challenging given the chronic conflict and supplies and the limited medical staff.
But our work is far from over. Despite people’s desire to get out of the emergency phase of the pandemic, COVID-19 remains a global crisis.
“It looks like COVID-19 will become endemic to the planet,” said Dr. Northan Hurtado, head of MSF’s New York-based medical unit. “Endemic doesn’t mean it’s good. Endemic does not mean harmless. We have endemic diseases in certain regions of the planet, such as measles, and measles still kills many people every year. We must continue to fight, reduce transmission, reduce mortality and morbidity, reduce the consequences of the disease and protect, above all, vulnerable populations. We cannot leave anyone behind. »
Scientific breakthroughs such as vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for COVID-19 have paved the way for a sense of normalcy in wealthier countries like the United States. Meanwhile, people in low- and middle-income countries who couldn’t afford to outbid high-income countries on early rounds of life-saving medical tools find themselves unnecessarily unprotected from disease. Currently, less than 14% of people in low-income countries have received even a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and most of the existing oral COVID-19 pills that are easy to administer in settings low-resource, such as those in which MSF works have already been purchased by rich countries.
“It is truly miraculous that we were able to see the scientific advances we needed to generate vaccines against this disease less than a year after the declaration of the pandemic,” said Mihir Mankad, senior advisor to MSF-United States. United for global health advocacy and policy. “But what we have failed to do, and continue to fail to do, is ensure that these tools are equitably available across the world.”
There is no reason why more vaccines, treatments and diagnostics cannot be made so that more people have access to them. There are hundreds of global vaccine and drug makers ready to help increase the supply of COVID-19 medical tools, if only the pharmaceutical companies would stop preventing them from doing so. One way for governments in countries like the United States to demand that companies stop obstructing this additional production is to adopt the TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization. This waiver would suspend intellectual property restrictions on all COVID-19 health products for the duration of the pandemic and help manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries produce COVID-19 medical tools.
“The global supply of COVID-19 products has been limited due to interest from the few pharmaceutical companies that control the production of these vaccines,” Mankad said. “If they were willing to share their technology with other vaccine makers in other countries, we wouldn’t have this question about artificially constrained supply. We could have produced these vaccines in other parts of the world. and deploy them quickly to the environments where they were needed.”
While everyone can feel ready to move on from COVID-19, not everyone has the luxury. As we enter a third year of the pandemic, much more needs to be done to treat and prevent COVID-19 – from continuing to educate the public and addressing stigma and vaccine hesitancy, to ensuring that actors like MSF have the logistical support for vaccination campaigns in hard to reach communities. Governments in countries like the United States and pharmaceutical companies must also commit to expanding global access to life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics and ensuring our teams on the ground have the tools they need to prevent and treat disease. We cannot leave anyone behind.