Pfizer has announced it is to supply all its current and future patent-protected medicines and vaccines on a not-for-profit basis to 45 lower-income countries and is talking to other big drugmakers about similar steps.
Announcing the “accord for a healthier world” at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, the New York-based pharma firm pledged to provide all its products that are available in the US and Europe on a cost basis to 1.2 billion people in all 27 low-income countries such as Afghanistan and Ethiopia, plus 18 lower-middle-income countries including Ghana.
Pfizer has previously been accused of “pandemic profiteering” over the huge profits it has generated from coronavirus-related medicines over the past two years. It made almost $15bn in sales in only three months from the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with Germany’s BioNTech and its new Covid pill for people who are at high risk of severe disease.
“We are living in a time where science is increasingly demonstrating the ability to take on the world’s most devastating diseases,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said. “Unfortunately, there exists a tremendous health equity gap in our world that determines which of us can use these innovations and which of us cannot.”
He told the WEF gathering in Switzerland: “I’m certain that the other pharmaceutical companies will follow. I’ve spoken to several of the CEOs and they want to be part of it. So medicines will be available I hope but it’s not going to be enough. We need to also work on the ground for diagnosis, treatments, and for that we need the help of WHO, Doctors without Borders and many other organisations.”
The US drugmaker is working closely with healthcare officials in Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal and Uganda to provide expertise to support diagnosis, education and training of doctors and nurses and improvements to infrastructure to ensure all medicines and vaccines can reach those in need. Lessons learned from these five countries will then be applied to the rollout to the other 40 countries.
“As we learned in the Covid vaccine rollout, ensuring supply is only the first step to helping patients,” Bourla said. “In order to make the accord successful, we look to collaborate with global health leaders to make improvements in other aspects like diagnosis, education, infrastructure, storage, logistics and many more.”
Appearing alongside Bourla was Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, who said: “Rapid and affordable access to the most advanced medicines and vaccines is the cornerstone of global health equity. Pfizer’s commitment under the accord sets a new standard which we hope to see emulated by others.”
Lazarus Chakwera, the president of Malawi, called it a “historic and unprecedented accord” that brings together decision-makers from governments, the private sector and civil society. “It is not a handout but a real partnership” that puts “human progress ahead of business profits and political posturing”, he said.
Pfizer is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new products such as vaccines to prevent the deadly Group B streptococcus, and for respiratory syncytial virus, which can be serious for children and older people.
Also on the panel, Bill Gates said: “This type of accord is a very good model, it’s going to get medicines out … Global health equity has made progress; we saw with Covid, we’re not there.”
The Microsoft co-founder told the WEF: “The Ukrainian situation is stretching the world’s resources and we see that in terms of resources for health and food, and availability of fertiliser. The tragedy of the war goes far beyond the battlefield The pandemic was a setback, we have more malaria deaths now than we had three years ago, routine vaccination numbers went down a fair bit.”
The billionaire and philanthropist said the dream was to make a powerful malaria vaccine, as the one funded by the Gates foundation and developed by GSK was too short in its duration and protection.