Archive for April 23rd, 2020

Patents vs. the Pandemic (Profits vs Humanity?)

April 23, 2020

Nice piece by Joseph Stiglitz. Arjun Jayadev and Achal Prabala.

In responding to the pandemic, the global scientific community has shown a remarkable willingness to share knowledge of potential treatments, coordinate clinical trials, develop new models transparently, and publish findings immediately. In this new climate of cooperation, it is easy to forget that commercial pharmaceutical companies have for decades been privatizing and locking up the knowledge commons by extending control over life-saving drugs through unwarranted, frivolous, or secondary patents, and by lobbying against the approval and production of generics.

With the arrival of COVID-19, it is now painfully obvious that such monopolization comes at the cost of human lives. Monopoly control over the technology used in testing for the virus has hampered the rapid rollout of more testing kits, just as 3M’s 441 patents mentioning “respirator” or “N95” have made it more difficult for new producers to manufacture medical-grade face masks at scale. Worse, multiple patents are in force in most of the world for three of the most promising treatments for COVID-19 – remdesivir, favipiravir, and lopinavir/ritonavir. Already, these patents are preventing competition and threatening both the affordability and the supply of new drugs.

We now have a choice between two futures. In the first scenario, we continue as usual, relying on the big pharmaceutical companies, hoping that some potential treatment for COVID-19 will make it through clinical trials, and that other technologies for detection, testing, and protection will emerge. In this future, patents will give monopoly suppliers control over most of these innovations. The suppliers will set the price high, forcing downstream rationing of care. In the absence of strong public intervention, lives will be lost, particularly in developing countries.

In the second possible future, we would acknowledge that the current system – in which private monopolies profit from knowledge that is largely produced by public institutions – is not fit for purpose. As public-health advocates and scholars have long argued, monopolies kill, by denying access to life-saving medicines that otherwise would have been available under an alternative system – like the one facilitating the yearly production of the flu vaccine.
Time to think of an alternative approach:
For too long, we have bought into the myth that today’s IP regime is necessary. The proven success of GISRS and other applications of “open science” shows that it is not. With the COVID-19 death toll rising, we should question the wisdom and morality of a system that silently condemns millions of human beings to suffering and death every year.
It’s time for a new approach. Academics and policymakers have already come forward with many promising proposals for generating socially useful – rather than merely profitable – pharmaceutical innovation. There has never been a better time to start putting these ideas into practice.

COVID-19 in Italy: An analysis of death registry data

April 23, 2020

Gabriele Ciminelli and Sílvia Garcia-Mandicó in this voxeu piece:

There are still many unknowns about COVID-19. We don’t know its true mortality rate, nor the speed through which it spreads across communities. This lack of evidence complicates the design of appropriate response policies. The case of the UK is illustrative. The government first opted for the bare minimum in terms of mitigation. It then drastically reversed course after micro-simulations by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team showed that that strategy could have resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths (Ferguson et al. 2020).

In a new paper (Ciminelli and Garcia-Mandicó 2020), we source daily death registry data for a sample of 1,161 Italian municipalities in the seven regions most severely hit by COVID-19 (Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Piemonte, Toscana, and Veneto) and match them to census data to analyse COVID-19-induced mortality. Overall, the dataset covers a population of almost 15 million inhabitants, roughly 25% of Italy’s total.

The findings suggest that the virus may have killed 0.1% of the local population in just over a month and that its mortality is vastly underreported in official statistics, plausibly by a factor of two. But there is also good news for policymakers – in the Veneto region, which has embraced mass testing, contact tracing, and at-home care provision, COVID-19-induced mortality is significantly lower than in neighbouring Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia.


RBI’s functioning and appointments requires more clarity

April 23, 2020

My new piece in Moneycontrol.

When RBI needs more hands, we have 3 Deputy Governors and one position remains empty. Moreover, one has seen RBI shuffle DG portfolios twice in three months amidst all the chaos. Even the way the appointment/reappointments have been handled does not inspire much confidence. However, as I argue this is not a RBI problem alone. Worldwide central bank appointments and reappointments are mired in absolute secrecy.

Much more in the piece.

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