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Emerging economies pushing for greater pharmaceutical self-reliance

Emerging economies pushing for greater pharmaceutical self-reliance

Countries like South Africa and Colombia, previously left behind in the global vaccine race, are adopting a more assertive stance against pharmaceutical giants, challenging policies that hinder affordable treatment for common diseases.

The shift reflects a growing self-reliance among poorer nations following the stark inequalities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Activists in South Africa have protested against Johnson & Johnson's efforts to protect its patent on bedaquiline, a crucial drug for drug-resistant TB. In response to pressure, J&J announced it would drop its patent in over 130 countries. Meanwhile, Colombia declared a compulsory license for the HIV drug dolutegravir, challenging patent-holder Viiv Healthcare.

The move by these countries signifies a broader trend of challenging pharmaceutical companies to ensure broader access to life-saving medications. The struggle for affordable drugs extends beyond COVID-19 vaccines, with a focus on critical treatments for TB and HIV.

Despite recent successes, experts argue that more comprehensive changes are needed for poorer countries to produce their own medicines and vaccines. Challenges include intellectual property laws, the need for stronger health systems, and addressing historical disparities in access to essential medicines.

While the pharmaceutical industry traditionally relies on aggressive patent protection, recent developments, such as J&J's decision to drop its patent, indicate a potential shift. However, concerns persist about the sustainability of such changes and the need for a more robust global effort to ensure equal access to essential treatments and vaccines. The World Health Organization notes the continued threat of TB, the world's deadliest infectious disease after COVID-19, emphasizing the importance of addressing gaps in treatment and access.

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