This was one of the statements which Dr. Carlos Ferreyra, Argentinian medical epidemiologist and climate activist, made in an interview which he gave to Pressenza on the occasion of the 74th World Health Assembly, and as promoter of the 1st Citizens’ Assembly for Global Health, which will begin on 26 May in parallel to the WHO meeting.

We are reproducing the entire interview on video and, in the coming days, we will be publishing extracts from it again according to the different themes, all of which are vital at this serious time of planetary pandemic. Its content deserves to be heard, given the need for urgent responses.

We have taken out and transcribed some of the opinions expressed by the epidemiologist, which we will be breaking down in future notes and short videos.

Dr Ferreyra is highly critical of the WHO’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. He understands that, at this 74th session, the World Health Assembly has the obligation to deal with three issues, in addition to those on the agenda: 1. 2. Finding priorities; how health systems can be properly organised and the level of control of the pandemic, especially in the poor countries of the world, must be based on primary health care, on creating a shield. It is not worth organizing health systems in hospitals which the poor world does not have. 3. The immediate availability of vaccines.

In conclusion: “If vaccines are not made available to the poor world in the next quarter of the year, we will be allowing the pandemic not to be stopped and which will only grow stronger as the response fails”.

Patent liberalisation

Asked about patent liberalisation, between the pro-patent liberalisation stance, made public – for example – by the member countries of the UN Permanent Council and the refusal of the big pharmaceutical companies, what the WHO can do, the response is blunt: “This assembly is made up of health ministers from all over the world, 196 countries. They have in their hands the possibility, the means to decide in their countries, so it is a very powerful body. The states can make this decision and they can do so in alliance with private industry… But the WHO also has the capacity to provide the formulas so that governments can work with these formulas in the development of vaccines, while at the same time legal issues can be resolved.

Which requires quick, concrete decisions. The WHO has this capacity, this information to provide it, but now it clearly cannot be done because there is a legal framework because the World Trade Organisation is in charge of deciding on patents. … The fact that there was no coordination to resolve the patent issue speaks of a resounding failure on the part of the United Nations, which the human species cannot afford. Here there are human beings in the poor countries of the world which we cannot allow our people, our fathers, mothers, children, workers … to die because they have no vaccines. And this must prevail in the thinking and decisions of the ministers which are appearing in this assembly (WHO).

Dantesque situations

Regarding the situation which is being experienced of people dying even at the door of a hospital, he said: “This is a Dantesque image, inappropriate for our own culture, ethics and morals in the human species. We cannot accept it, nor can we naturalize death”. He again denounces: “Parliaments were not active in the early way which they should have been.

WHO as a political body

He also called for the WHO to be restructured and which should become a political body: “The World Health Organisation must once again be financed by the states”.

And regarding its dependence on the World Trade Organization, he explains: “It is very likely that the World Trade Organization will never make a decision on patents, so it is very important that the World Health Assembly first make the appropriate decision in political terms to make patents available to all UN member states, [through] their ministries of health, and secondly that ministers make a very strong statement against the amount of money that pharmaceutical companies have made and that this is immoral to the survival of the species and the survival of the planet. If these two resolutions are not taken, I think that we are going to have a very complex world after 2 June when the assembly has not decided… Because if we don’t act now, it will be too late on 2 June”.

He hopes that it will also make another statement “which says that it is unethical to make money with vaccines… that it is unethical to make money with the death or life of people“.

Climate change and health

Ferreyra – a self-proclaimed climate activist – said he believes it is essential that the 74th Health Assembly discusses the urgency of climate change: “Health is the human face of climate change … doctors have to be the main activists: “The Paris agreement for me is the major public health treaty which we have made in humanity”. I would also like the World Health Organization to take a clear position on climate change at this World Health Assembly”.

1st Citizens’ Assembly for Global Health

Dr. Carlos Ferreyra has set up a Consortium (in which Pressenza participates), to organize what will be the 1st Citizens’ Assembly for Global Health, which will take place in parallel to the 74th World Health Assembly, and one of whose objectives is “to question the ministers which will be the main responsible for what happens if the vaccines do not reach the arms of the human beings who need them in a reasonably short time to prevent the pandemic from spreading beyond the year 2023. Every time more time passes, the virus gets stronger and stronger and this is one of the problems which needs to be understood as to why there is urgency”.

This Citizens’ Assembly is being held at the same time “so that we can be nourished by what is being debated, so that we can be alert in terms of the post-assembly. Here the world is going to have hope depending on what happens in the next seven days. Then comes the post-assembly. If a decision in favour of life was taken, the world will have a way forward, and if a different decision was taken, it will be very different… and there, we citizens have a lot to say”.

In order to set it in motion, he has been inspired by the recommendations which the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, gave, and gave him, about the importance of citizens in these assemblies in order to show their positions.