By Sylvia Chebet
As the world was reeling from the sledgehammer blow of losing close to seven million lives to the relentless march of Covid-19, it became glaringly evident that a united front was the only way to combat this monstrous pandemic.
Born out of this necessity in May 2020, the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) aimed to ensure equitable and affordable access to intellectual property, data, and healthcare systems for all nations.
Despite the formidable challenges of establishing such a platform amidst a catastrophic pandemic, C-TAP secured global licenses for 15 technologies spanning research, diagnostics, and vaccines.
Four years later, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is preparing to launch the Health Technology Access Pool (HTAP), a successor to C-TAP.
Experts anticipate HTAP will build on the solid foundation laid by C-TAP, incorporating changes that enhance its ability to attract and support a diverse array of priority technologies more effectively.
"Equitable access to essential health products is an essential part of universal health coverage and global health security," said WHO’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, while introducing HTAP.
"Building on what we have learned from C-TAP, this new initiative is an important step towards more equitable access to a broad range of health products through the sharing of intellectual property, knowledge, and scientific innovation."
Boon for Africa
Dr Ahmed Ogwell, Africa CDC's deputy director, hails the platform as "urgently needed" to bridge the existing technology development gap.
"This could be a game-changer for the African continent and other parts of the world where technological development hasn't reached the same level as the West," he tells TRT Afrika.
Dr Ogwell also underscores the continent's lack of intellectual property rights in the health sector, a deficiency that becomes glaringly evident during pandemics.
Like its predecessor, HTAP aims to serve as a crucial forum for technology partners to share intellectual property, knowledge, and data, accelerating technological innovation.
Since the platform operates voluntarily, Africa can leverage useful technologies as soon as they are available.
"If HTAP works efficiently, it will be a very progressive season for the continent because we can then turn knowledge into actual products that we can use,” says Dr Ogwell.
In the same breath, he also acknowledges the uncertainty about whether those possessing highly sought-after technologies would willingly share their products on the platform.
"During an emergency, there are multiple global-level instruments that are supposed to kick in and make it easier for those who may not have intellectual property to access," explains Dr Ogwell. "Unfortunately, that did not happen effectively during the pandemic."
Despite this, the deputy chief of CDC Africa remains hopeful that HTAP, based on agreed parameters, will encourage people to voluntarily contribute their intellectual property rights and knowledge to the platform.
"I am a huge optimist that humanity is at the core of everything. And when we make the case that disease X can be addressed with health product Y, and someone has intellectual property rights about that health product, they will make it available on HTAP," he says.
The official launch of HTAP is slated for the second quarter of 2024. In the meantime, WHO will explore opportunities to secure health technologies and expand regional and global production capacity.
Dr Ogwell urges African countries to ramp up investments in the health sector in anticipation of this development.
"Covid-19 taught us that we lost a decade by not meeting the Abuja targets," he says, pointing out that the targets are achievable.
"It won't happen at once because of fiscal space and the competing needs of a developing country, but it is achievable."
With more investments, better preparedness for health emergencies, and access to a wide array of health technologies, Africa could yet turn the tide on its challenged health systems.
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