The initiative was presented by Alicia Bárcena, the organization’s executive secretary, at the 6th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Regional Bloc, held in Mexico City.
The member countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) today unanimously approved the lines of action and proposals for a plan for self-sufficiency in health in Latin America and in the Caribbean – a programmatic roadmap presented by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) to strengthen the production and distribution of medicines, especially vaccines, in the countries of the region and reduce external dependence – and gave a mandate to the United Nations regional commission to pursue actions for its effective implementation.
The plan was presented by Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC, at the 6th Summit of Heads of State and Government of CELAC, held in Mexico, the country that holds the pro tempore presidency of the regional bloc. . The meeting brought together presidents, vice-presidents, ministers and other high-level government officials from the 33 nations that make up the Community.
In his opening speech, the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, called on countries to “end lethargy and propose a new and dynamic relationship between the peoples of America”. In addition, he urged the United States and Canada to vaccinate countries in the region that have been unable to protect their populations from COVID-19 due to a lack of economic resources, and he has requested that ECLAC and other multilateral organizations develop a plan. with the primary objective of promoting the economic community of Latin America and the Caribbean and thus exploiting the natural and cultural resources of the region.
Meanwhile, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard highlighted the approval of lines of action and proposals for a health self-sufficiency plan, which he defined as the adoption of a common way to avoid further setbacks in the region in terms of access to vaccines and drugs.
“We are still far behind compared to other regions of the world. This must not happen again in our region and that is the value of the document you approved. The 31 countries represented here today are adopting a common path so that Latin America and the Caribbean will never again be left behind as in 2020 and 2021. The lesson has been learned and the path adopted, ”he said. declared.
At the same time, in his address, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres underlined in a video message that where common challenges exist, it is necessary to identify concrete areas of collective response and proposals for multilateral solutions.
“With today’s summit, the leaders of the region demonstrate their commitment to the renewal of CELAC as a space for strengthening regional cooperation. The United Nations contributes to this aspiration through the self-sufficiency plan in health, the objective of which is the development, expansion and strengthening of regional production of vaccines and drugs ”, indicated the highest authority of the UN.
The proposed health self-sufficiency plan presented by Alicia Bárcena aims to assess the extent of the challenges faced by the countries of the region in the health, economic, social and productive fields, and to advance lines of action. to strengthen the capacities of the production and distribution of vaccines and drugs in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
To develop the initiative, ECLAC carried out comprehensive monitoring of progress and issues related to equal access to immunization; it formed a working group made up of more than 20 experts from different countries in the region; it carried out an inventory and a diagnostic assessment of regional capacities in the field of health, which highlights the institutional capacities for the design and implementation of policies; it formulated recommendations for strategies and seven lines of action in the short, medium and long term; and it identified strategic actors and institutions.
During her presentation, Alicia Bárcena recalled that the scale of the pandemic showed the limits of the supply of vaccines and drugs, the weaknesses of health systems, the inequalities in terms of access to universal primary health care, and lack of advance planning.
In addition, chronic underfunding of research and technological development and weak industrial policies have hampered the development of existing capacities to produce vaccines in a timely manner or to build a large-scale market for drugs.
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 ease of global access to COVID-19 (COVAX) vaccines. In addition, she indicated that the region’s strong participation in clinical trials of international laboratories has not led to better access to vaccines. The proof is that Latin America and the Caribbean will not be able to immunize 80% of its population in 2021.
Therefore, “universal primary health care systems are needed in Latin America and the Caribbean. There must be strategic coordination between the health, economic, industrial and financial sectors in the region. Fostering development and coordination between regulatory systems is imperative, and a vision of regional and sub-regional integration is necessary that would ensure greater autonomy in production and universal access to vaccines, ”she said. supported.
The Executive Secretary of ECLAC underlined that, despite the limits and heterogeneity between countries, the pharmaceutical industry is important not only because of its production, but also because of its performance in terms of employment, wages , gender issues and knowledge dissemination.
She recalled that large pharmaceutical companies are leaders of technological change; however, they represent only 8% in the region against 51% in the world. In addition, Latin America and the Caribbean’s share of world pharmaceutical exports was 0.7% in 2020, well below its share of world exports of all goods that year (5.4% ), while 87% of its medicine imports come from outside the region.
From a medium to long term perspective, the ultimate objective of the health self-sufficiency plan for Latin America and the Caribbean is the development, expansion and competitive strengthening of research, development and research capacities. production of vaccines and drugs throughout the region. To this end, three specific objectives are defined: to provide a stable and large-scale market that gives clear signals and certainty for companies in which to invest; encourage and facilitate research and development of innovative projects; and support local production and integration into regional production chains.
In addition, given the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fragility of international access to vaccines and the slowness of vaccination processes in most countries, the plan has the additional objective of accelerating the roll-out of vaccination, which requires improving international access to vaccines and facilitating national inoculation processes.
In this context, seven lines of action have been defined and prioritized: i) Strengthen the mechanisms for group international purchasing of vaccines and essential drugs; ii) Use public drug procurement mechanisms to develop regional markets; iii) Create consortia for the development and production of vaccines; iv) Establish a regional platform for clinical trials; v) Take advantage of regulatory flexibilities to access 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 has identified immediate actions to be taken in three areas: coordination between national regulatory authorities, regional procurement mechanisms to achieve universal access to vaccines and the implementation of a platform. regional clinical trials.
“The spirit of the health self-sufficiency plan and its initiatives are regional in scope and courses of action are proposed for their regional or sub-regional implementation. While a plan of this nature requires capacity building within each country – and the importance of national policies in this sense is recognized – it does not focus on proposals of national scope, but rather on cooperation and regional integration, ”said Alicia Bárcena.
“CEPALC puts all its technical capacities at the service of CELAC to implement the health self-sufficiency plan presented today. Regional integration is one of the reasons why our institution exists ”, she concluded.