The second wave of COVID-19 is reaching extremely alarming levels in India. As of 18 May, the total number of active COVID-19 cases in India is at 3,353,765. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has scaled up medical intervention in Mumbai, while at the same time undertaking precautionary measures to ensure continuity of quality medical care for vulnerable populations. MSF is also calling on governments, including Greater China and Southeast Asia leaders, to support the landmark proposal to waive certain intellectual property (IP) during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow COVID-19 tools, including vaccines, to be more affordable and accessible to all.
In Mumbai, a densely populated city with almost 42% of the population living in low-income housing and in poor hygienic condition, has been severely devastated by the pandemic. MSF has deployed doctors and nurses to support BKC hospital (also called Jumbo Hospital) in Mumbai, which currently has two wings for treating severe COVID-19 patients. Each of these wings can admit 1000 patients.
During the virtual press briefing today, Leena Menghaney, COVID-19 Survivor and Global IP Advisory, MSF Access Campaign, spoke to journalists in the region from India, “The situation in the areas where we intervene remains extremely challenging. There is a need to increase access to timely oxygen and quality management of patients under a highly challenged health system.”
MSF team, consisting 60 staff is working in collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai in Maharashtra, is managing a dedicated COVID-19 Health Centre with an inbuilt space with 1000 beds, mostly on observation and triage in wards where patients can receive oxygen. “We know that today, throughout India, there are needs from human resources, to oxygen and medicine supply that have to be urgently addressed. The scale of this crisis is too big for any single actor, and any additional support is extremely needed,” Menghaney added.
Apart from the direct COVID-19 response, MSF teams are also undertaking precautionary measures to ensure continuity of care to vulnerable populations with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, HIV and TB; strengthen infection prevention and control capacity in medical facilities to reduce the risk of infection of healthcare workers; and to keep our regular medical programmes running.
The emergence of new strains of COVID-19, the situation in India, Brazil and many countries suffering from the brunt of the COVID-19 emphasises that there is a need to improve access to COVID-19 vaccines, health products and technologies. To date, many of the low-income countries in which MSF operates have only received 0.3 percent of global COVID-19 vaccine supply.
Dr Yuan Qiong Hu, Senior Legal Policy Advisor and Policy Coordinator, MSF Access Campaign said, “It is time to choose lives over profits. We ask governments to support this proposal and put pressure on wealthy countries still currently blocking this waiver and standing in the way of making COVID-19 tools more easily available to everyone, everywhere.”
MSF is urging all countries to support the landmark proposal to waive intellectual property (IP) barriers that restrict access to COVID-19 medicines, equipment and vaccines. The proposal aims to allow countries to choose not to enforce, apply or implement patents and other exclusivities that could impede the production and supply of COVID-19 medical tools until global herd immunity is reached. It will also allow manufacturers to start producing much needed COVID-19 medical tools without fear of being blocked by patents or other monopolies. Earlier in May, US has agreed to support waiving IP protections for COVID-19 which marks a first step towards achieving vaccine available to all, while the leaders of G20 nations back voluntary licensing of COVID-19 vaccine patents.
“In this pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe, and that includes the most vulnerable. There is an opportunity for countries and regions (Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore) in exercising leadership in the call for the patent waiver proposal.” Dr Hu said.