Countries of the region initiated today the process to implement the Plan for Self-Sufficiency in Health Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean, approved unanimously by the Heads of State and Government of the 32 countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) last September 18, upon participating in the first coordination meeting, organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Government of Mexico, which holds the bloc's pro tempore chair.
In the short term, the countries seek to set in motion three pillars: regulatory convergence and recognition mechanisms, a regional clinical trials platform, and mechanisms for pooled international procurement of vaccines and essential medicines and their utilization to develop regional markets.
The First Meeting for Coordination of the Plan for Self-Sufficiency in Health Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean was inaugurated by the Executive Secretary of ECLAC, Alicia Bárcena; the Federal Commissioner for Protection against Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) of Mexico, Alejandro Svarch Pérez; and the National Coordinator of Mexico before CELAC, Efraín Guadarrama Pérez, who thanked the Commission for its role in executing the Plan and thanked the national delegations for their contributions at the gathering.
The event also featured a presentation by the Deputy CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Frederik Kristensen.
"The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced and continue to live through the tragedy of COVID-19. The region has been one of the hardest hit in the world by a pandemic that exposed its health, economic, social and productive vulnerabilities," Alicia Bárcena stated, recognizing that the region "made and continues to make important efforts with regard to vaccine development and production. But those efforts have not been sufficient."
"The proof of that," ECLAC's Executive Secretary noted, "lies in the ongoing negotiation processes with producer countries and laboratories to obtain promises regarding vaccine sales and to ensure later that those promises translate into delivery of the pledged doses. All of this in an international context in which international solidarity has had, in the best of cases, an outcome that was insufficient and frequently late."
Data indicates that the region will not be able to vaccinate 80% of its population in 2021, she warned.
Although the pandemic has revealed the region's structural problems, it is also an opportunity to reevaluate its productive and technological capacity and reformulate the strategies and policies needed to strengthen local systems for producing and innovating on goods and services linked to the health complex, Bárcena affirmed.
"In this context, the document Plan for self-sufficiency in health matters in Latin America and the Caribbean: Lines of action and proposals, prepared by ECLAC at the request of CELAC's pro tempore chair, and the implementation of which brings us together today, is a response prepared by the region and for the region," the senior United Nations official underscored.
Meanwhile, the head of COFEPRIS, Alejandro Svarch Pérez, indicated that "we recognize the strategic importance of the Plan for Self-Sufficiency in Health Matters, which, among other things, seeks to assess the magnitude of the challenges that the region's countries face in health, economic, social and productive spheres, advancing very clear lines of action that seek to strengthen our States' response capacity in terms of distribution and, above all, access to quality vaccines and medicines that are always safe and have the efficacy that our people need and deserve."
In his remarks, the Deputy CEO of CEPI, Frederik Kristensen, sustained that the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean has shown the interconnection between health, development, finances and security, and it has clearly demonstrated the flaws in existing systems. Nonetheless, he highlighted the will to build back better demonstrated by political leaders. "We are prepared to play a role in that," he stated.
In a presentation offered to the delegations, ECLAC's Executive Secretary explained that the Plan was conceived for this emergency and future pandemics and that it seeks to guarantee equal access to vaccines in the short term, while also carrying out an assessment of capacities in the health complex.
The Plan proposes six lines of action: Regulatory convergence and recognition mechanisms; Regional clinical trials platform; Immediate mechanisms for vaccine procurement at a regional level; Consortiums for vaccine development and production; Regulatory flexibilities to gain access to intellectual property; and Development of a stable regional market for medicines based on public procurement, strengthening regional and subregional mechanisms.
During its first stage, four of these lines of action (encapsulated in three pillars) are being prioritized, Bárcena stated, with proposals for holding diverse regional gatherings in the coming months, convening regulatory authorities, regional and subregional mechanisms for integration, researchers, and representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and of non-governmental organizations that support research in the region, among other stakeholders.
"Eighty-seven percent (87%) of medicine imports come from outside the region. The scale of an integrated regional market is crucial for the success of a regional production strategy. We need to use the public sector's purchasing power as an instrument for developing regional production chains. Intraregional trade must be facilitated, boosting the development of regional suppliers and improving negotiations as a bloc for access to inputs and technological transfers," Bárcena summarized.
The pandemic has taught us the imperative need to enhance regional integration and coordination to create our own capacities for developing and producing vaccines and medicines, she concluded.