Earlier this week, the web was flooded by the news of The US ‘scooping up’ the entire supply of Remdesivir. The drug, which has shown effects that quicken the recovery in COVID-19 patients, was originally developed to treat hepatitis and other respiratory viruses.
In May, Gilead, the manufacturer of Remdesivir, donated its entire stockpile of drugs in its bid to help the world recover from the virus.
Weeks later, the pharmaceutical giant has entered a deal with the US Government in which the latter has promised to purchase all of its stock in the month of May and 90% stock in the following two months. While this means that developed countries like those parts of the EU, cannot produce or purchase the drug. Developing countries, however, will still have access to the drug.
US President Donald Trump, who has signed off on the deal, has, in the past, called the virus a “hoax”, has threatened to cut all ties with the World Health Organisation, has predicted that the virus will just ‘disappear’ one day, and has encouraged his country’s officials to slow down testing in order to bring down the number of newly recorded cases.
Despite this attitude, the Trump administration has shown great determination to ensure The United States have almost exclusive access to the seemingly life-saving drug.
Some may argue that since the producer of the drug, Gilead, is a United States business and is thus bound by its duty to its nation. The US has a law that prevents any pharmaceutical manufacturer from exporting any drug that may be in short supply within the country. In fact, many countries, including the UK, have a similar law.
Since the situation in The US, where over 45,000 new coronavirus cases were reported yesterday, is nowhere near to improving, the government has taken this step. However, at the same time, getting Remdesivir for the COVID-19 treatment will not be an easy affair even for US citizens, as one course of the drug will be priced at $2,340.
The manufacturer, in an open letter signed by the CEO of Remdesivir, has claimed that the drug has been priced “well below” its value, also claiming that the company has spent an excess of $1 billion in perfecting the Remdesivir formula.
This move by Gilead has invited a lot of criticism from Members of Congress and consumer advocates that suspect the pharmaceutical company of trying to profit unfairly.
The drug, as it turns out, was developed over a decade ago. Recently, Remdesivir’s potential as an antiviral drug was tested in research done in partnership with the US government. According to the same advocate, the research spent $70 million of the US taxpayer’s money.
An independent analysis by the Institute of Clinical and Economic review claims that Gilead can recoup its investment in developing the drug even when it distributes the drug for as little as $100 per dose.
Even as the US deals with this internal issue, the US government is facing a lot of heat for its decision of ‘hoarding’ the supply of Remdesivir for the next three months.
Many have labeled the US’s approach toward the pandemic “America first”.
Just a few weeks ago, a similar glimpse of the Trump administration’s determination for outbidding and outmaneuvering other countries appeared when French pharma manufacturer Sanofi’s CEO Paul Hudson gave the following statement:
“The US government has the right to the largest pre-order because it’s invested in taking the risk.” While the French government pressured Paul Hudson into backtracking his statement, nothing can stop the US from controlling the availability of Remdesivir.
Even as World politicians like Canadian Prime minister criticize this situation with statements like “We know it is in both of our interests to work collaboratively and cooperatively to keep our citizens safe”, the World is once again reminded of a few nations’ selfish approach during worldwide emergencies.
Another example of this behavior can be observed from the example of Zmapp, a drug that cured Ebola in rhesus monkeys. The study that found these results was done during the 2014 Ebola outbreak that claimed several lives across nations. However, as soon as Zmapp’s effectiveness was barely proven, the race to secure the drug’s supply began.
As usual, powerful nations like Spain and the US had ample supply to protect their health workers, frontline warriors across the rest of the globe were left without protection.
This issue was also raised a little further in the past during the 2006 avian flu epidemic. During that time, Indonesian health minister Siti Fadilah Supari pointed out that low- and middle-income countries had been sharing patient and virus data with powerful countries and the WHO but none of them had benefited from the fruits of the research conducted with the data.
This gives many the impression that regardless of who is developing the drug or vaccine, access to life-saving cure will only be made available to the highest bidders.
These impressions are not imaginative and have started floating in the minds of public health advocates because of the actions of powerful countries during such dire times.
Even when we look to the future with hopes that a vaccine will be developed soon, no powerful country that is currently preaching world solidarity has proposed or even devised a plan for efficient and fair distribution of the vaccine.
As the pandemic continues to spread, and the world witnesses a race between various world governments to put an end to it, one thing has become clear, for many people in powerful positions, money remains an important motivating factor, even during a pandemic.
Before we start wondering when scientists will announce that a preventive vaccine for COVID-19 is available, we need to start wondering if we, along with our fellow humans living halfway across the globe will get access to the vaccine in time.
What do you think? Share your thoughts, along with your country, in the comment section below.