South Africa, Colombia and other countries that lost out in the global race for coronavirus vaccines are taking a more combative approach towards drugmakers and pushing back on policies that deny cheap treatment to millions of people with tuberculosis and HIV.
Experts see it as a shift in how such countries deal with pharmaceutical behemoths and say it could trigger more efforts to make lifesaving medicines more widely available.
In the COVID-19 pandemic, rich countries bought most of the world’s vaccines early, leaving few shots for poor countries and creating a disparity the World Health Organization called “a catastrophic moral failure.”
Other countries are trying to become more self-reliant “because they’ve realized after COVID they can’t count on anyone else,” said Brook Baker, who studies treatment-access issues at North-eastern University.
One of the targets is a drug, bed aquiline, that is used for treating people with drug-resistant versions of tuberculosis.
The pills are especially important for South Africa, where TB killed more than 50,000 people in 2021, making it the country’s leading cause of death.
In recent months, activists have protested efforts by Johnson & Johnson to protect its patent on the drug.
In March, TB patients petitioned the Indian government, calling for cheaper generics; the government ultimately agreed J&J’s patent could be broken.
Belarus and Ukraine then wrote to J&J, also asking it to drop its patents, but with little response.