The member countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) unanimously approved today the lines of action and proposals for a plan for self-sufficiency in health matters in Latin America and the Caribbean – a programmatic roadmap presented by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) for strengthening the production and distribution of medicines, especially vaccines, in the region’s countries and reducing external dependence – and gave the United Nations regional commission a mandate to further actions for its effective implementation.
The plan was presented by Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, during CELAC’s 6th Summit of Heads of State and Government, which was held in Mexico, the country that holds the regional bloc’s Pro Tempore Chair. The meeting was attended by Presidents, Vice Presidents, Ministers and other high-level government officials from the 33 nations that comprise the Community.
In his opening remarks, the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, called on countries to “put an end to lethargy and propose a new and vibrant relationship between the peoples of America.” Furthermore, he urged the United States and Canada to give vaccines to the countries in the region that have been unable to protect their people from COVID-19 due to a lack of economic resources, and he requested that ECLAC and other multilateral organizations draft a plan with the overarching objective of promoting Latin America and the Caribbean’s economic community and thereby harnessing the region’s natural and cultural wealth.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard, pointed up the approval of the lines of action and proposals for a plan for self-sufficiency in health matters, which he defined as the adoption of a common path to avoid new setbacks in the region in terms of access to vaccines and medicines.
“We still lag very far behind other regions of the world. This must not happen again in our region and that is the value of the document that you have approved. The 31 countries represented here today are adopting a common path so that Latin America and the Caribbean will never lag behind again as it did in 2020 and 2021. The lesson has been learned and the path, adopted,” he stated.
Meanwhile, in his remarks, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, underscored in a video message that when common challenges exist, it is necessary to identify concrete areas for collective response and proposals for multilateral solutions.
“With today’s summit, the leaders of the region demonstrate their commitment to the renovation of CELAC as a space for strengthening regional cooperation. The United Nations contributes to this aspiration through the plan for self-sufficiency in health matters, the objective of which is the development, expansion and strengthening of regional production of vaccines and medicines,” the UN’s highest authority indicated.
The proposal for a plan for self-sufficiency in health matters presented by Alicia Bárcena seeks to assess the magnitude of the challenges faced by the region’s countries in health, economic, social and productive spheres, and to advance lines of action to strengthen capacities for the production and distribution of vaccines and medicines in Latin American and Caribbean countries.
To develop the initiative, ECLAC carried out exhaustive monitoring of the progress and problems related to equal access to vaccination; it formed a working group made up of more than 20 experts from distinct countries in the region; it carried out an inventory and diagnostic assessment of regional capabilities in the health arena, which highlights institutional capabilities for policy design and implementation; it formulated recommendations for strategies and seven lines of action for the short, medium and long term; and it identified strategic actors and institutions.
During her presentation, Alicia Bárcena recalled that the magnitude of the pandemic showed the limitations in the supply of vaccines and medicines, the weaknesses of health systems, the inequality in terms of access to universal primary health care, and the lack of prior planning.
Moreover, the chronic underfunding of technological research and development and the weakness of industrial policies prevented the development of existing capacities to produce vaccines in a timely fashion or to build a large-scale market for medicines.
The senior United Nations official stressed that the health crisis revealed insufficient international solidarity, with little support from developed countries and minimal impact from the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility. In addition, she indicated that the region’s strong participation in international laboratories’ clinical trials did not lead to greater access to vaccines. The proof of this lies in the fact that Latin America and the Caribbean will not be able to vaccinate 80% of its population in 2021.
Hence, “universal primary health care systems are needed in Latin America and the Caribbean. There must be strategic coordination between the health, economy, industry and finance sectors in the region. Fostering development and coordination between regulatory systems is imperative, and a vision of regional and subregional integration is needed that would ensure greater autonomy in production and universal access to vaccines,” she sustained.
ECLAC’s Executive Secretary stressed that, despite the limitations and heterogeneity among countries, the pharmaceutical industry is important not just because of its production, but also because of its performance in terms of employment, wages, gender matters and knowledge dissemination.
She recalled that major pharmaceutical companies are leaders in technological change; however, they only represent 8% in the region versus 51% globally. Also, Latin America and the Caribbean’s participation in global exports of pharmaceutical products was 0.7% in 2020, well below its share of global exports of all goods that year (5.4%), while 87% of its medicine imports come from outside the region.
From a medium- and long-term perspective, the ultimate goal of the plan for self-sufficiency in health matters for Latin America and the Caribbean is the development, expansion and competitive strengthening of research, development and production capacities for vaccines and medicines regionwide. To this end, three specific objectives are defined: to provide a stable, large-scale market that gives clear signals and certainty for firms to invest in; to encourage and facilitate research and development in innovative projects; and to support local production and integration into regional production chains.
In addition, in view of the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fragile status of international access to vaccines and the slow progress of the inoculation processes in most countries, the plan has the additional aim of speeding up vaccination rollout, which requires improving international access to vaccines and facilitating domestic inoculation processes.
In this context, seven lines of action were defined and prioritized: i) Strengthen mechanisms for pooled international procurement of vaccines and essential medicines; ii) Use public procurement mechanisms for medicines to develop regional markets; iii) Create consortiums for vaccine development and production; iv) Implement a regional clinical trials platform; v) Take advantage of regulatory flexibilities to gain access to intellectual property; vi) Strengthen regulatory convergence and recognition mechanisms; and vii) Strengthen primary health systems for universal access to vaccines and their equitable distribution.
In the short term, ECLAC identified immediate actions to be taken in three areas: coordination between national regulatory authorities, regional procurement mechanisms to achieve universal access to vaccines, and implementation of a regional clinical trials platform.
“The spirit of the plan for self-sufficiency in health matters and its initiatives are of a regional scope, and lines of action are proposed for their regional or subregional implementation. Although a plan of this nature requires strengthening capacities within each country – and the importance of national policies is recognized in this sense – its focus is not on proposals with a national scope, but rather on regional cooperation and integration,” Alicia Bárcena affirmed.
“ECLAC puts all its technical capabilities at the service of CELAC in order to implement the plan for self-sufficiency in health matters presented today. Regional integration is one of the reasons why our institution exists,” she concluded.