Rome, 29 October – Executive Director of Unitaid, Dr Philippe Duneton, spoke today in a session on ‘Addressing the Current Pandemic’ as part of the G20 Finance and Health Ministers’ Meeting, 2021.
During the meeting, Dr Duneton reiterated the continued urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic – highlighting the risks posed by the emergence of new variants and the unequal access to vaccines – and announced three pieces of good news:
First, new antiviral medicines for COVID-19, which have shown to efficiently reduce the number of people hospitalized and deaths, are under review and should be available soon.
Second, there is a clear path to secure enough treatments to supply low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Novel treatments – such as molnupiravir, developed by MSD/Merck – are cheaper, in addition to being easier to produce and implement, than biological products. Creating generic markets for these antivirals is an urgent next step.
Third, MSD/Merck has agreed to grant voluntary licences to eight generic manufacturers. And this week, MSD/Merck signed a ground-breaking agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) – which was founded by Unitaid ten years ago – to expand the number of generic manufacturers.
Dr Duneton called on G20 members to encourage the private sector to increase the scope of countries that can benefit from this voluntary licence and to create access provisions to medicines that respond to public health needs.
Beyond expanding access, there is an urgent need to work with regulatory agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners to ensure that countries can receive and deliver these life-saving treatments.
Medical oxygen remains one of the main medicines available to treat hospitalized patients and prevent avoidable deaths. Despite recent progress, access to oxygen remains a challenge in many countries, warned Dr Duneton, highlighting the continued need for financing to support global demand.
The world still needs resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, reduce the number of people hospitalized, and save lives. Fully funding global response mechanisms such as the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) is crucial to bringing an end to the pandemic.
The ACT-A Therapeutics Pillar, co-led by Unitaid and Wellcome, needs an estimated US$3.5 billion to deliver treatments, including oxygen, over the next 12 months.
Following Dr. Duneton’s intervention, the G20 Ministers adopted a communiqué.
Unitaid is a global health agency engaged in finding innovative solutions to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases more quickly, cheaply, and effectively, in low- and middle-income countries. Its work includes funding initiatives to address major diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, as well as HIV co-infections and co-morbidities such as cervical cancer and hepatitis C, and cross-cutting areas, such as fever management. Unitaid is now applying its expertise to address challenges in advancing new therapies and diagnostics for the COVID-19 pandemic, serving as a key member of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. Unitaid is hosted by the World Health Organization.
About the ACT-Accelerator
The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator is a global coalition of organizations developing and deploying the new diagnostics, treatments and vaccines needed to end the acute phase of the pandemic. Pooling the expertise of its many partners, the ACT-Accelerator has quickly ushered in rapid, affordable tests and effective medicines, and established the COVAX facility for the equitable procurement and distribution of vaccines in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
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