Globalization concept illustration.

Human Rights and Global Responses to the Pandemic in the Age of Hyper-globalization

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Sakiko Fukuda-Parr

In 1999, the Human Development Report called for stronger international arrangements to govern people in a globalized world, stating: “the present era of globalization, driven by competitive global markets, is outpacing the governance of markets and the repercussions on people…. An essential aspect of global governance is responsibility to people – to equity, to justice, and to enlarging the choices of all.” As the 21st century sped into an era of hyper-globalization, new global institutions are urgently needed to protect the public interest. The architecture of global health emergencies is a case in point. Its core agreement, the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) remains state centric, catering to national interests, bound to colonial epistemic frameworks, and silent on market power that can trample on human rights. The age of hyper-globalization requires global institutions that enable global – collective – responses to contain pandemics worldwide, that build on international solidarity and human rights norms, and structures that break free from North-South hierarchies of power and knowledge.

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Researcher works at a lab bench

Governance Needs for Pandemic Preparedness and Response: How to Ensure the Science-Policy Interface

This post was originally published on the Verfassungsblog as part of our joint symposium on international pandemic lawmaking.

By Gian Luca Burci

The COVID-19 pandemic has been characterized by mistrust in science, the manipulation of science for political purposes, the “infodemic” of mis- and disinformation, and a repeated failure to base policy decisions on scientific findings.

The crisis of confidence in scientific analysis is paradoxical and disquieting, particularly in light of increasing international regulation to manage acute or systemic risks and its reliance on science.  This so-called “science-policy interface” (SPI) incorporates scientific expertise into global policy-making and regulation in fields as diverse as climate change, biodiversity, and nuclear safety, but it is arguably less developed in global health and in particular for pandemic preparedness and response (PPR).

As international policymakers consider various proposals aimed at preventing another pandemic through better and stronger global rules — whether in the form of a WHO “pandemic treaty,” revised International Health Regulations, a UN political declaration, or regulatory framework — the integration of SPI in their design will be of crucial importance for their credibility and effectiveness.

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Photo of person with gloved hand holding flask at lab bench.

In Academia, Innovators Receive Unfair Compensation for Their Discoveries

By Matt Bauer

In academia, many of the scientists who are recognized as inventors on patents see little economic gain from these agreements.

Instead, royalties are primarily assigned toward their home institutions.

The scientists who drive discoveries within the walls of academia are not receiving an equitable share of the benefits of their innovations. Despite being the source of these discoveries, students and postdoctoral researchers don’t see the financial upside of the commercialization of their inventions.

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WHO flag.

Can a Pandemic Lawmaking Exercise Promote Global Health Justice? — Final Symposium Editorial

By Alicia Ely Yamin, on behalf of the editors*

Leer en español.

Lire en français.

Amid the unfolding “moral catastrophe” of COVID-19, and across the entries in this symposium, we see a clamor for any pandemic law-making exercise to promote more justice in global health.

However, this universally-embraced imperative masks a wide array of divergent views about the nature and sources of inequalities in global health, and in turn what should be done if we were to think beyond a narrow pragmatism of the moment.

In this final editorial, we attempt to surface some of the critical contestations that underlie any future pandemic treaty or revisions of the International Health Regulations (IHR).

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Euros, U.S. dollars, and pounds.

Who Will Pay for COVID-29? (Or, Who Will Pay to Avert It?)

By Sebastián Guidi and Nahuel Maisley

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Pandemics have very real costs. When they hit, these costs are obvious and dramatic — people fall ill and die, businesses go bankrupt, children are kicked out of school. When they don’t, it’s very likely because we have already taken extremely costly measures to prevent them.

These costs are inevitably distributed — through act or omission — by international law. As the international community discusses a new pandemic treaty, complementary to the International Health Regulations, it bears emphasizing that any global framework that does not reckon with cost will fall short of an acceptable solution.

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Globe and vaccine.

Decolonizing the Pandemic Treaty Through Vaccine Equity

By Tlaleng Mofokeng, Daniel Wainstock, and Renzo Guinto

In recent years, there have been growing calls to “decolonize” the field of global health. Global health traces its roots back to colonial medicine when old empires sought to address tropical diseases which, if not controlled, could be brought by colonizers back home.

Today, many countries in the Global South may have already been liberated from their colonizers, but the colonial behavior of global health continues to manifest in policies, funding, research, and operations.

Unlike the tropical diseases of the past, SARS-CoV-2 has affected rich and poor countries alike, but the tools for putting this pandemic under control — most notably vaccines — remain unevenly distributed across the world. As of October 27, 2021, 63.5% of individuals in high-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, in low-income countries, only 4.8% of the population has been vaccinated with at least one dose.

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Concept illustration of DNA and genes.

The Civil Rights Challenge to Gene Patenting

By Jorge L. Contreras

In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched a unique lawsuit against Myriad Genetics, challenging fifteen claims of seven patents covering various aspects of the BRCA1/2 genes and their use in diagnosing risk for breast and ovarian cancer. In mounting this case, the ACLU assembled a coalition of lawyers, scientists, counselors, patients and advocates in an unprecedented challenge not only to one company’s patents, but the entire practice of gene patenting in America. And, against the odds, they won. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics that naturally occurring DNA sequences are not patentable, a ruling that has had repercussions throughout the scientific community and the biotechnology industry.

In The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA (New York: Hachette/Algonquin, 2021), I describe the long road that led to this unlikely Supreme Court victory. It began in 2003 when the ACLU hired its first science advisor, a Berkeley-based cellist and non-profit organizer named Tania Simoncelli. At the ACLU, Simoncelli’s job was to identify science-related issues that the ACLU could do something about, from DNA fingerprinting to functional MRI brain imaging. A couple of years into the role, Simoncelli mentioned gene patenting to Chris Hansen, a veteran ACLU litigator who had been involved in cases covering mental health to school desegregation to online porn. At first, Hansen didn’t believe her. How could a company patent something inside the human body? But Simoncelli persisted, showing him articles and statistics demonstrating that, by 2005, more than 20% of the human genome was covered by patents. The realization led to Hansen’s oft-quoted exclamation, “Who can we sue?”

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Researcher works at a lab bench

Scientific Innovation in International Pandemic Lawmaking — Second Symposium Editorial

By Pedro A. Villarreal, on behalf of the editors*

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Perhaps there is some Utopia where scientific research could immediately provide us all the accurate data on a novel disease´s severity and fatality rate. No doubt some (although not everyone) believe that such an ideal world would include mathematical models that could accurately predict both the disease´s pattern, as well as the effectiveness of the array of medical and non-medical tools to confront it. In this imaginary reality, data could tell us exactly to what extent restrictive public health measures are necessary in a given society to limit the spread of a pathogen, and it would be shared without constraints across the globe. Moreover, in this mythical world, there would be no distance between research and its application, as policymakers would simply need to draw from existing information to “make the right call.” Failsafe mechanisms would be in place to avoid the temptation of either altering scientific data, or using it for partisan motives. And, needless to say, in an ideal world, both research and the products of scientific innovation, including diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, would be available to everyone, globally, on the basis of need rather than ability to pay.

No such world is possible because science does not work that way. However, the broken world in which we find ourselves underscores the central imperative of reflecting on how lawmaking can be deployed to advance scientific innovation and equity.

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Vial and syringe.

The Pandemic Treaty and Intellectual Property Sharing: Making Vaccine Knowledge a Public Good 

By Ellen ‘t Hoen

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the lack of regulation for the sharing of intellectual property (IP) and technology needed for an effective and equitable response to the crisis.

The Pandemic Treaty (or other legal instrument) scheduled for discussion at the World Health Assembly in the fall of 2021 should focus on establishing the norm that the IP and knowledge needed to develop and produce essential pandemic health technologies become global public goods. It should also ensure predictable and sufficient financing for the development of such public goods.

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Globe and vaccine.

Promoting Vaccine Equity

By Ana Santos Rutschman

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp relief longstanding equity problems surrounding the allocation of newly developed vaccines against emerging pathogens.

In my upcoming book, Vaccines as Technology: Innovation, Barriers, and the Public Health, I examine these problems and look into possible solutions to incrementally build more equitable frameworks of access to vaccines targeting emerging pathogens. These solutions focus on ensuring that vaccines are made available affordably to the populations that need them the most according to public health parameters.

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