A. The unacceptable
The Agora of the Inhabitants of the Earth has always contested the legitimacy of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a separate and independent organization from the UN, to decide the world rules in the field of health, instead of the UN and, in particular, the WHO (World Health Organization, a specialized agency of the UN). The WTO is the place where the rules of trade, imposed by the most powerful economies of the planet, reign in the financial interests and the economic domination of the world's oligarchies.
These rules, in particular through the patents, give profit-making private subjects the exclusive right of ownership and use for 20 years of knowledge about living organisms (cells, molecules, genes, etc.). Since their imposition in 1994, they have prevented the development and fair and equal use of medicines and vaccines against pandemics such as Ebola, influenza A (H1N1) and AIDS. Millions of people have died unduly or suffered severely in human and social terms, not to mention the millions more who die each year from diseases related to the lack of safe drinking water and poor sanitation due to impoverishment. Even today, almost half of the world's population is not guaranteed basic health coverage. In the meantime, the private (Western!) global pharmaceutical industry has only accumulated profits, wealth and power. Unacceptable.
2. Testing and experimentation
We denounce the politically, economically and socially irresponsible behaviour of the managers/owners of the pharmaceutical companies that hold the patents on life (and on artificial intelligence). They know that almost all the costs of R&D, testing and experimentation, as well as the production and distribution of vaccines and other medical devices against Covid-19, have been paid for by the state budget, public money, among others through the guaranteed public advanced market commitments of billions of doses.
- no major pharmaceutical company has responded positively to the invitation by the WHO and a significant number of states, including the EU, to share the accumulated scientific knowledge that underpins the development of medical therapies;
- the leaders of the pharmaceutical industry have so far blocked any proposal aimed at the compulsory licensing and temporary suspension of patent rules, in accordance with the provisions of the WTO-TRIPS treaties (in particular Articles 9 and 31). Their refusal is dictated solely by the defence of their profits and their oligopolistic domination of markets;
- they continue to claim that they are prepared to distribute, i.e. sell, vaccines:
at market price, to the states of rich countries for distribution to their population;
at discounted prices, to rich country governments and philanthropic organisations for distribution to populations in middle-income countries;
at production cost to rich country governments and philanthropic organisations for distribution to people in 92 low-income countries (who are eligible to receive such aid!). Unacceptable.
3. Leaving no one behind
We are outraged by the current hypocrisy of the representatives of rich country states, especially the "Western" OECD (and their allies). Between 1990 and 1998 they approved the patentability of all life forms, human genes included. They imposed the WTO-TRIPS agreements and for the past year and a half, they have been claiming that the principle of private property rights over life forms is untouchable. They preached the submission of health policy to the "laws" of the market and the "imperatives" of financial returns. They no longer speak of a "universal right to health" but of "equitable and affordable access" to medical instruments (a purely market-based approach).
Under these conditions, how can they claim that their objective has been and remains that of "leaving no one behind" when they keep intact the principle of patents which constitutes a structural negation of the right to health and of health as a global public good? Indeed, the reality belies their proclamations.
Moreover, the fact that governments have virtually taken over the entire cost of vaccines from A to Z has not prevented them from "safeguarding" the private ownership of vaccines by the patent-holding companies! This fact rather illustrates the flagrant submission of the States, of the public authorities to the private powers. Such submission is inadmissible.
4. G20 Global Health Summit
We also denounce the opportunistic materialism of the majority of the world leaders of the most powerful countries, which will inspire their choices at the WTO-TRIPS General Council meeting on 8 and 9 June. They showed their choices at the G20 Global Health Summit in Rome on 21 May. They will treat the pandemic as a problem of management of an unexpected natural phenomenon. Beyond the death of 3.7 million people to date, also within their own population, what matters to them is to get the growth of the world economy, the world GDP, back on track.
For them, the growth of social, human and economic inequalities is inevitable. The new crisis of work and employment is necessary to regenerate, they say, the new labour forces. The digitalisation of the economy requires large investments in national and international infrastructure. What they are interested in is the regeneration of the high-performing labour force in order to restart the economic machine.
To this end, they will not even talk about the temporary suspension but will focus on increasing the production and distribution capacity of vaccines for people in poor countries without touching the patent rules.
5. People dying for lack of oxygen
In the face of such an approach, we wish to affirm our full solidarity with the millions of our co-inhabitants of the Earth who have not yet been able to receive anti-Covid-19 care at the risk of their lives and health and who lack the financial and technological resources to cope with the enormous economic, social and human damage of the current crises. We are thinking of the people of Brazil and India. In the latter country, hundreds of thousands of people are dying for lack of oxygen, while the world has spent S 2,000 billion on armaments in 2020 and India itself is in fifth place in terms of military expenditure! Unacceptable. We are thinking of Haiti. As of 2 June, not a single dose of vaccine has been administered in the country.
Our solidarity also goes to the medical personnel of all categories, who believe in health care as a commitment to life. These hundreds of thousands of people are at the forefront of the struggle and are paying for their commitment with their lives, while the patent holders and stock market operators will on 8 and 9 June continue to think about the commercial performance and financial returns of their companies and markets.
Finally, our solidarity goes to the people who in recent years have fought for their right to health, only with partial success due to the strong and unjustified opposition of the patent-holding companies supported by their submissive "protective" states. The disregard for the rights of hundreds of millions of human beings must stop.
6. The coming years
We are very concerned about developments in the coming years. What concerns us most is the manifest inability of the ruling power groups to conceive and realise sustainable global cooperation for effective solutions in the interests of all members of the global community of life on Earth. This inability was certified by the Rome Declaration of the G20 World Health Summit held in Rome on 21 May (yet another world summit of the powerful for nothing!). The Covid-19 pandemic has become, unfortunately, a ground for new rivalries between the US and China, the US and the EU, the EU and China, India and China, the EU and Russia. Moreover, the fear of global "vaccine" apartheid is not going away.
Thus, we remain seriously concerned by the fact that for 29 years the "big" Conferences of Parties (COP) on Climate and Environment (we will be at the 26th COP next November) have been held annually, with the participation of tens of thousands of people, representing the powers of the world, without effective results and without any real junction and integration between the policies to fight against the climate and environmental disaster and the fight for health and against pandemics. We underline the incoherence of the COPs (de facto, the powers that "govern" the world) that have never questioned the legalization in 1990 of the absolute right of private (intellectual) property on living organisms. How can one make an environmental and health policy in favour of the right to life for all if the public authorities give the right of private intellectual property on life to subjects pursuing lucrative goals and who, as we have seen, "logically" abuse it without limits?
The failure of global cooperation by the dominant (in this case, governments, responding to the dictates of the laws of the market, professed by financial groups), must push citizens to strengthen their mobilisation to stop and put an end to the ongoing disasters.
One of the ways to be urgently undertaken is the abolition of patents on life (and on artificial intelligence) together with a root and branch change of the financial system and the launching of initiatives and the setting up of responsible institutions on a global scale capable of working, really, for the safeguarding of the lives of all the inhabitants of the Earth. The time for small steps has come to an end. It is time for boldness.
B. Working for life, universal rights, global public goods1
Proposal 1. Health as a global responsibility of the UN/WHO reformed/strengthened
Whatever the WTO-TRIPS decision on 8-9 June, global health issues must become institutionally the responsibility of the UN/WHO and be removed from the authority of the WTO, a separate and independent institution from the UN.
Welcome, therefore, the proposal attributed to the EU to work towards the approval of a new global health pact aimed at strengthening the global capacity to monitor and address current and future pandemics. Provided that the body responsible for implementing the pact is an integral part of a UN with enhanced powers and competences and a WHO freed from the stranglehold on its work by the big multinational pharmaceutical and chemical companies.
Proposal 2. Abolition of patents on life (and on artificial intelligence). The right to life is more important than profits
Abolition is fundamental to ending a thirty-year history of annihilation of human rights and the global res publica and, in so doing, to laying the foundations for a new history of living together peacefully in justice and mutual solidarity and sharing knowledge. Of course, at the same time, it is also necessary to impose the sharing of the necessary ingredients for their production. We should not wait for the approval of the new global health pact to proceed with abolition. The basic principle is there: it is the universal right to life (not 'affordable and equitable access to vaccines').
Proposal 3. Bring R&D activities back into the public domain and launch a "Global compact on science for life and security for all people on Earth"
Research and development (R&D) activities of fundamental importance to life should be brought back into the public domain. This includes the university system and the research laboratories of university hospitals and the like.
More integrally, there is an urgent need to design and implement a "Global compact on science for life and security for all people on Earth". In this context, it is a priority to consider the creation of a World Health House (WHH), a true common open space - a watchtower and a place for exchanges and proposals - for the promotion of common and united programmes and initiatives in the service of global health policy (see proposals 1 and 2).
Knowledge cannot be kept in a state of subservience to the objective of the so-called "national" security of the strongest states and to the objective of the security of the interests and power of the most powerful economic groups.
Proposition 4. Health policy is a public goods policy. The financial (and fiscal) system must be reoriented and restructured. “The financial and fiscal transition”
Health must be considered by law as a public commons of the global community of life on Earth, an inalienable "heritage" under the collective responsibility of humanity. Activities, infrastructures, medical instruments and treatments and health services are public common goods/services, not subject to rivalry and operating outside the logic of the market and free from the imperatives of financial return.
The people demand "health for and by the people". They want vaccines for the people, not vaccines for profits. They want decentralised health systems, anchored in the territories They reject to being treated, as they are today, as terminals of bed occupancy and drug and machine consumption within the framework of gigantic care structures of sick people. Health is not only caring sick persons.
Therefore, the life sciences industry and health systems (local, national, international and global) must be governed and financed under the responsibility of democratic and supportive public authorities and institutions.
At the heart of the necessary processes of structural change is the definition and structuring of a new global financial (fiscal) system designed, among other things, to support:
- the conversion of the private pharmaceutical industry into a public industry at local, national, regional and global level;
- the integration of all essential health service activities into public health systems that are unique at each territorial level (which does not exclude, of course, respect for the social, cultural and historical specificities of the different "territories"), cooperative (based on cooperation, mutualism and solidarity according to the principles of a true social and solidarity economy) and universal (i.e. responding to the same objectives of health coverage set by the competent world bodies/institutions, including proposal 1).
To reorient and restructure the financial (and fiscal) system, it is proposed to start by outlawing speculative and predatory financial activities. A strong "financial and fiscal transition" must be driven by:
- the banning of tax havens, increasing tax harmonisation on a global scale, the establishment of international taxes on financial transactions and on the profits (against tax evasion) of large multinational companies, the abolition of banking secrecy (within the framework of an effective reinforcement of the fight against the financial criminality, notably concerning illegal trafficking in drugs, arms, etc.);
- the resumption by the public authorities of decision-making and control powers in monetary matters, in opposition to the current commodification and privatisation of currencies and savings and investment;
- the drastic reduction of military expenditure, while respecting the application of the nuclear weapons ban treaty ratified last year.
Proposal 5: Creation of a Citizens' security council for World Common Public Goods (WCPG)
The realisation of nature's universal human rights to life is strictly linked to the collective life security of all the inhabitants of the Earth. During these long months of pandemic, it has been repeated often, even if not respected by those who have asserted it: no one is saved until all are saved. One point is clear in this regard. There can be no effective and efficient common and collective security without safeguarding the world common public goods essential to life and making them available to all without discrimination and exclusion.
To this end, the participation of citizens and peoples is of crucial importance.
The world common public goods (WCPGs) essential to life are not legion: water, air, solar energy, land, seeds, health, knowledge, education, culture.
The mission of the Citizens' Council for World Common Public Goods Security is threefold: to alert and preserve; to propose legislative initiatives concerning the rules; to monitor and sanction.
A health policy in favour of the universal right to life for all the world's population, with justice and dignity for all, is not only a question of pharmaceutical strategy and the digitalisation of health services. Moreover, it cannot be achieved within the framework of the 'laws' of the market, which are necessarily oligopolistic, and of a financial and fiscal system that serves the private interests of the global oligarchies.
The changes to be made are considerable and will be strongly opposed by the forces of the system in place, but the strength of the proposals presented here lies in their utopian capacity to construct futures that better respond to the rights and aspirations of the peoples and inhabitants of the Earth.
Although timid and strictly limited, the recent decision of the G7 members on June 4 to impose a minimum tax of 15% on the profits of multinational companies in the countries where they are produced, confirms that changes can be made to the financial and fiscal system under strong political, social and moral pressure from citizens.
The Agora of the Inhabitants of the Earth.
1 On this subject, see also Citizens' Memorandum. For a global public health policy, see The Agora of the Inhabitants of the Earth.