The US has bought most of the globes’ supply of remdesivir, an antiviral drug that could help treat COVID-19.
The Trump administration has purchased more than 500,000 doses of remdesivir -- that’s almost all of the world’s supply for the next three months.
The antiviral could help treat COVID-19 by improving the recovery time for hospitalised patients. It is not a cure.
The US has the highest infection rate in the world with more than 2.6 million recorded COVID-19 cases and more than 128,000 deaths.
Pharmaceutical giant Gilead developed remdesivir and the drug is under patent to Gilead. When a pharmaceutical company owns a patent, only they have the right to manufacture, market the drug and eventually make a profit.
Gilead said in a statement that it would offer a lower price to developed countries.
However, the amount purchased by the US represents all of Gilead’s production for July and 90 percent of August and September.
Gilead has license agreements with manufacturers in Egypt, India and Pakistan for the supply of remdesivir in 127 low and some middle-income countries, which the company says allows for a cheaper generic form of remdesivir to be distributed to the nations on the list.
The agreement does not serve other developed nations or countries outside the territory of those license agreements. With the exception of India, the top ten affected COVID-19 countries outside the US are not included on this list.
Critics say the licenses will allow Gilead to control the global supply of the drug and prevent generic versions from being distributed in these countries.
“The US deal with Gilead and limits on which countries can be supplied under this licensing agreement leave countries such as Australia in the lurch: unable to access remdesivir from Gilead at a high price - as the US is doing - and unable to access it at a low price from generic manufacturers, as lower-income countries can,” said University of Sydney pharmaceutical policy expert Associate Professor Barbara Mintzes.
Gilead has chosen to donate some of their supply to Australia, which falls outside this list -- but other countries worst affected are yet to receive the supplies.
Led by President Jair Bolsonaro, who has infamously dismissed the seriousness of the outbreak, Brazil has the world’s second-highest recorded cases of COVID-19 in the world, according to John Hopkins University.
Brazil has had more than 1.4 million COVID-19 cases with 60,000 recorded deaths. The South American nation recorded more than 259,000 cases last week alone.
Gilead and the US have not yet offered to donate supplies, however, the country could have access to the drug at a reduced cost set by Gilead, at a later stage.
President Bolsonaro has promoted the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19, which has not been shown to be a reliable treatment for COVID-19.
With the third-highest recorded infection rate in the world with more than 650,000 listed cases, there is no indication Russia will receive remdesivir supplies in the coming months.
Russian officials claim to already have an effective treatment -- an anti-influenza drug named Avifavir -- which it has approved for the treatment of COVID-19 in their hospitals.
The Russian Direct Investment Fund, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, and a Russian pharmaceutical company, ChemRar Group, announced the delivery of the first batch of Avifavir to Russian hospitals last month.
Like remdesivir, there are claims Avifavir shortens recovery times for patients with coronavirus.
The United Kingdom
The UK has the fifth-highest rate of infection in the world at more than 314,000 recorded cases, with the rate of infection slowing over the past month.
The use of the remdesivir had been approved in May in the UK, with doubts expressed at the time over the global supply of the drug.
England's deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said on Wednesday it has adequate supplies of the drug, though securing future supplies may be difficult.
Van-Tam said the government has higher supplies of the generic drug dexamethasone - often used for asthma - which is being used to treat COVID-19 in the UK. Clinical trials in the country have shown the steroid can be lifesaving for patients critically ill with the disease.
"I don't think it will be as easy or straightforward as measures we took for dexamethasone, by virtue of
scarcity and by virtue that it's a new medicine," he said.
Despite having the earliest and strictest lockdowns in South America, Peru has the sixth-highest rate of COVID-19 infections in the world at more than 288,000.
Healthcare workers in the country were protesting a lack of personal protective equipment as the government rushed to build makeshift hospitals.
Unless the country has its own stocks of remdesivir, it’s unlikely Peru will have access to the drug in the next months.
Last month, officials spruiked ivermectin, an antiparasitic commonly used in tropical medicine, as a COVID-19 treatment. The Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of the World Health Organization, has issued a statement warning against the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19.
The Peruvian Ministry of Health also promoted hydroxychloroquine has an effective treatment.