The world’s food crisis could last until 2024 unless safe corridors are created to move Ukrainian food stocks currently blockaded by Russia, Director General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has warned.
Speaking at a press conference on policy outlook for trade and food at the on-going World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos, Switzerland, she explained: “The food crisis, if we don’t get these safe corridors out, is going to last another year or two, to be honest with you.”
According to her, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres was engaged with the issue.
“He formed a crisis group composed of key UN agencies and related agencies. WTO is part of it, to look at the food, energy and finance aspects of the crisis.
“One issue is the creation of safe corridors and looking at alternative means to evacuate Ukrainian grain. Rail could take one or two million tonnes, but it’s very difficult so we really need the Black Sea.”
“I know that some work is going behind (the scenes) to see if we can get a solution. So the secretary general is involved,” the WTO DG stressed.
Trade, she pointed out, was part of the solutions to the simultaneous crises gripping the world, adding that the world faces the security crisis, the pandemic, the climate crisis, food crisis, all at same time.
“They have one thing in common — one country can’t solve them, needs multinational approach,” she further said.
Okonjo-Iweala explained that the WTO recently revised down its projections for trade growth this year from 4.7 per cent to three per cent.
“There are lots of uncertainties – many on the downside. There are lots of downside risks. If you don’t have trade, you can’t move food to where it is needed, she pointed out.”
Meanwhile, pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer has announced that it would supply all its current and future patent-protected medicines and vaccines on a not-for-profit basis to 45 lower-income countries, saying it was talking to other big drug-makers about similar steps.
Announcing an “accord for a healthier world” at the WEF annual meeting in Davos, the New York-based pharma firm pledged to provide all its products that are available in the US and Europe on a cost basis to 1.2 billion people in all 27 low-income countries such as Afghanistan and Ethiopia, plus 18 lower-middle-income countries including Ghana.
Pfizer had previously been accused of, “pandemic profiteering” over the huge profits it has generated from coronavirus-related medicines over the past two years. It made almost $15 billion in sales in only three months from the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with Germany’s BioNTech and its new Covid pill for people who are at high risk of severe disease.
“We are living in a time where science is increasingly demonstrating the ability to take on the world’s most devastating diseases,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said.
“Unfortunately, there exists a tremendous health equity gap in our world that determines which of us can use these innovations and which of us cannot.”
He told the WEF gathering in Switzerland: “I’m certain that the other pharmaceutical companies will follow. I’ve spoken to several of the CEOs and they want to be part of it.
“So medicines will be available I hope but it’s not going to be enough. We need to also work on the ground for diagnosis, treatments, and for that we need the help of WHO, Doctors without Borders and many other organisations.”
Jayasree Iyer, the chief executive of the Netherlands-based independent group Access to Medicine Foundation, said: “Based on our research, Pfizer’s commitment covers the right products by looking across the entire portfolio of patented products, the right countries by focusing on the poorest countries and the right partnerships by working with governments and international health organisations.
“But we need to see how it pans out; the commitment needs to move us forward, from vaccine to vaccination, from medicine to treatment.”
Elsewhere in Davos on Wednesday, a nurse from Liberia, George Poe Williams, staged a, “clap for pharma profits” in protest at the profits made by drugmakers, some of which, including Pfizer, refuse to waive patents on Covid-19 vaccines.
Williams said: “If I wanted to earn what Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla made last year, I would have to work every single day until 6100 AD. But what makes me really furious is that Bourla and many of his billionaire buddies here at WEF are doing all they can to block our demands for a patent waiver – just so they can make even more money.”
Under its new initiative, Pfizer is working closely with healthcare officials in Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal and Uganda to provide expertise to support diagnosis, education and training of doctors and nurses and improvements to infrastructure to ensure all medicines and vaccines can reach those in need.
Pfizer is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new products such as vaccines to prevent the deadly Group B streptococcus, and for respiratory syncytial virus, which can be serious for children and older people.
Also on the panel, Bill Gates said: “This type of accord is a very good model, it’s going to get medicines out … Global health equity has made progress; we saw with Covid, we’re not there.”