Access To Treatment During The COVID Pandemic In Nepal: Policy Choices And Constraints

Access To Treatment During The COVID Pandemic In Nepal: Policy Choices And Constraints

The NGO Federation of Nepal, Nepal Red Cross Society, South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication and Third World Network are organising a webinar on “Access to treatment during the COVID Pandemic in Nepal: Policy choices and constraints” on 11 December 2020 from 11 am to 1 pm, Nepal time.

Kindly register, if you are interested to attend the webinar. Please refer to the below text for the link, concept etc.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis not only in terms of healthcare, but the global ecnomic and social system that is struggling to meet its demands. Like most other least-developed and developing countries, Nepal’s health system is fighting to cope with the pandemic by trying to provide access to medicines, diagnostics, hospital infrastructure, personal protective equipment, masks and so on. Like in other countries, critical discussion on health rights and a “people’s vaccine” that will reach all of the world’s and Nepal’s people, is gaining ground.

But there are many policy challenges beyond national borders. Not only has globalisation skewed the production and export of medical products, the global intellectual property rights (IPR) regime, as implemented through the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement of the WTO, has forced member countries to recognise IPR monopolies which has resulted in high prices and limited supply of critcal medical products; as obvious in the case of Remdesivir. New COVID vaccines are also expected to be patented and expensive.

As a least-developed country, Nepal does not have to implement the TRIPS Agreement till 2021 and can enjoy TRIPS Waiver on medicines till 2033. This flexibility allowed Nepal to develop a generic pharmaceutical industry which is still in an infant stage. While it still faces many issues including that of quality, with the help of supportive policies the inustry has the potential to grow and provide cheap medicines to the Nepal’s population as well as export.

But global patents on key vaccines may mean these will not be available in Nepal till very late. And as Nepal is due to graduate in 2024, it will have to implement the TRIPS Agreement, making access to diagnostics, treatment (through medicines) and vaccines for COVID-19 as well as for other critical current and future diseases, nearly impossible as these will be patented and exorbitantly priced. The global IPR regime poses an immense barrier to people’s health rights and any dreams of a “people’s vaccine”.

There are currently two positive options which are being discussed. One is a proposal for a temporary waiver from certain provisions of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) obligations to ensure smooth supply of medicines and vaccines during the COVID-19. The second is an extension for LDCs of the general transitional period to implement the TRIPS Agreement. But the future of these proposals remain uncertain.

It is well-known that COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the challenges that the LDCs continue to face, such as lack of domestic financial resources, high debt levels and fragile health systems, which can have far-reaching impacts on education, human rights, employment, food security and economic development in the long term. Given this situation, it is important for Nepal to examine the options available both for graduation and extension of transition in light of COVID-19 pandemic. If it has to ensure health rights for all its people, and ensure a “people’s vaccine”, one that will enable the last person in Nepal to be safe from this virus and other future health crises, it must engage in policy issues at both global and national levels. The citizen’s will also need to work with their government to make this a reality.

The webinar will discuss; Nepal’s options regarding COVID-19 treatment, prevention and diagnostics; the implications of Nepal’s graduation for its pharmaceutical industry & cost of medicines and vaccines; and, the current global policy dynamics that will ease or exacerbate barriers posed by the IPR regime on treatment of COVID-19 and other critical ailments in Nepal.

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