Morocco: rethink access to health after the pandemic

COVID19 Newsletter, Morocco / Western Sahara

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In Morocco as in other countries, the pandemic exacerbates the debate around more democratic access to health. Beyond medical questions, the fight against coronavirus is also a legal issue. While healthcare staff around the world are on the front line, pharmaceutical laboratories and research centres are working behind the scenes towards a treatment against COVID-19 that will require designing production techniques (often patented) and obtaining administrative approvals (a slow and complex process) before a treatment can be distributed.

A collective of civil society organisations, including EuroMed Rights’ Moroccan members, will soon meet the President of the Moroccan Parliament to hand over a memorandum asking to lift legal barriers that may otherwise impede the swift distribution of a treatment to the population. Among these measures, the organisations are targeting the granting of licences allowing for a treatment to be put on the market. At the moment, the granting of such licences is a slow and administratively complex process. An amendment to the current law could allow solely the Ministry of Health to grant such licences, once the efficiency of the treatment and the absence of any side effects is proven. This could speed up the deployment of a treatment.

Given the seriousness of the pandemic and its universality, the memorandum also calls for a revision of the attribution criteria for patents and other intellectual property instruments. While they provide an incentive for private investments against diseases, patents often trigger a rise in prices and can lead to a monopoly situation. They can even prevent the creation of generic drugs, which are more affordable for the most vulnerable and a lesser burden for the public purse.

The organisations call for the creation of a national, multidisciplinary committee composed of health and economic affairs representatives, civil servants and civil society actors, to monitor patents or other intellectual property instruments that may prevent equal access of all Moroccans to a future COVID-19 treatment. This committee could ensure that drugs that have already entered the public domain could not be patented again following the discovery of a new commercial usage.

Such a committee could become a decision-making model in the fight against other health issues such as cancer or cardiovascular and infectious diseases.

The right to health is an essential right. The swift spread of the coronavirus across the globe has confirmed its universal character. Access to a future treatment must therefore be universal. The new decision-making process proposed to tackle the pandemic might, in the future, help reap benefits in terms of access to public health for all Moroccan citizens.