As therapeutics and vaccines are discovered, tested and produced, developing economies must have fair access to the drugs. Though global demand will be high, an international bidding war for vaccine doses — similar to the chaos created by the scramble for personal protective equipment — is both unethical and unwise.
At the height of the global AIDS crisis, Kofi Annan, then secretary general of the United Nations, proposed a large international fund that would buy critical drugs at a fair price, maintaining drugmakers’ incentive to invest in development, and then distribute them where needed at affordable prices. That call eventually became the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has helped save 32 million lives since its founding. That’s what the world needs now.
Even if the Trump administration is currently unlikely to support an international effort to distribute drugs, other advanced countries acting together could create the political pressure to bring the United States in.
The coronavirus pandemic is a dual emergency: an economic as well as a public health crisis. The shutdown of the global economy has left many heavily indebted developing countries facing a pressing debt crisis that could have even greater spillover effects. The major industrialized countries should lead efforts to increase debt relief for heavily indebted developing countries. The suspension of debt payments approved this spring by the Group of 20 is only a first step. Substantially more relief is likely to be needed, including from China, which is now a major creditor in emerging markets.
None of these steps would detract from domestic responses to the pandemic and the economic damage it has caused. But the upside would be significant: reducing the chance of renewed outbreaks in large developed countries, protecting globally connected economies and heading off the pandemic’s potentially disastrous geopolitical and economic consequences.
That’s why providing support to developing countries is not only morally right, but also powerfully in the self-interest of richer states.
Robert E. Rubin was the secretary of the Treasury from 1995 to 1999. David Miliband, a former British foreign secretary, is the chief executive officer of the International Rescue Committee.
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