Petty political horse-trading among G-8 nations may prevent them from endorsing the so-called Advance Market Commitment initiative when they meet next weekend for a summit in St. Petersburg. The proposed program would provide the pharmaceutical industry with subsidies for developing vaccines to combat disease in developing countries, a sector long overlooked because of its limited market potential.
As the Washington Post explained:
Under the plan, the G-8 would guarantee a market — valued at $800 million to $6 billion depending on the disease — for any company or companies that produce vaccines that meet agreed-upon standards for safety and efficacy. Once the [G-8] spend that initial subsidy, the pharmaceuticals companies would discount the vaccine sharply for developing-world customers.
The AMC program, which has the endorsement of the G-8 finance ministers, the pharmaceutical industry, and the world’s public health organizations, has the potential to save millions of lives in the developing world. There are currently six vaccines being considered as candidates for the program, three vaccines in the later stages of development (against rotavirus, pneumococcal disease, and human papilloma virus) and three in the early stages (for malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis). Together, these diseases kill over seven million people every year (the last three alone kill six million), most of them in developing countries.
However, as the Wall Street Journal reported today, squabbling between France and the United States may prevent the plan from moving forward at the G-8 summit. One reason is France’s proposal for an international airline tax, the proceeds of which would pay for the purchase of drugs for developing countries. The United States and others objected to the idea of imposing a global tax as a threat to national sovereignty and an ineffective solution when compared to the AMC, which would promote the development of new vaccines, rather than just paying for more of the same drugs. Angry that its ticket tax had been rejected, the French negotiator blocked AMC from the G-8 leaders’ statement. Also contributing to the possible derailment of the program was the reluctance of countries like Germany and Japan to contribute much money for the vaccine plan. Under the AMC, the G-8 nations would only have to pay money in the event that the pharmaceutical companies develop a safe and effective vaccine for one of these deadly diseases.
This is truly disgraceful. The international community had developed an innovative new program for promoting vaccine development that, according to an Italian study, might eventually have prevented as many as seven million deaths per year, and it is blocked because the French felt snubbed and because other nations did not feel like making the necessary commitment. It is a tragedy that potential breakthroughs in the global fight against disease are sidetracked by international rivalry and petty politics.