Logistics for distribution of the vaccine and medication for Covid-19 is looming uncoordinated, according to an article released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
Remarkable efforts are underway to ensure effective research and development (R&D) of Covid-19-related diagnoses, treatments and vaccines, including at the World Health Assembly last week, and in the context of a voluntary technology suite recently announced by WHO.
«But the international Covid-19 response largely lacks a comprehensive strategy on how to ensure the missing link between R&D and distribution, that is, large-scale manufacturing,» says the article, written by James Zhan, director of the Investment and Enterprise Division, and Christoph Spennemann, Head of the Intellectual Property Unit, UNCTAD.
This has already been clearly evident in the shortage of face masks, gloves and gowns for health workers in Africa, items that are generally easy to manufacture and yet often had to be shipped thousands of miles away.
According to UNCTAD, manufacturers supply only 40% of the world market for personal protective equipment (PPE) in just three countries outside of Africa, and 35% of the medical products available worldwide are sold in only three countries outside of Africa. .
Logistics and coronavirus
At least 47 countries have implemented one or more measures that affect the exports of products or by-products used in the public health response to COVID-19.
«Once a treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 is available, mass demand is likely to exceed supply even more quickly and visibly, with huge consequences for equity in health,» they added.
Previous hopes that, due to weather conditions, the countries of the global South could be less affected, are rapidly disappearing.
Now the pandemic is affecting low- and middle-income countries, and Latin America is considered a new epicenter of the pandemic, according to a statement from the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 22.
Therefore, increasing local productive capacity becomes a necessity to guarantee public health security in low and middle income countries. Since the virus knows no borders, the productive capacity of these countries contributes in return to global health security.
Logistics is urgently needed, according to Zhan and Spennemann. For vaccines, for example, The Economist notes that global vaccine production, which currently exceeds 5 billion doses a year, will not be enough to meet the massive new demand.
Reusing existing facilities is not a solution – this is not always feasible and would also reduce the ability to make regular vaccines to address life-threatening diseases like measles and polio.
“We need to avoid a scenario in which poor countries are left behind. This requires new industrial alliances, parallel manufacturing by multiple companies in multiple locations, and creative approaches to intellectual property to ensure the rapid availability of new technologies for high-volume production,” they said.
In sum, logistics must be crucial to avoid repeating the shortage that occurred worldwide with some medical supplies and personal protective equipment in the first stage of the pandemic.
Parallel to local actions, according to Graciela Márquez, Mexico’s secretary of economy, the focus of the solution is on international cooperation to dispose, as soon as possible, of the vaccine and medicine, a logistics effort that should be led by the United Nations, the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization.