The message of this year’s World Health Day is to build a fairer, healthier world. At the Medicines Patent Pool (MPP), we are only too aware that the world is neither fair nor healthy, that access to essential medicines varies depending on where you live, with access still lagging in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Each day, by ensuring equitable access to quality, affordable treatments, MPP strives to serve those who would otherwise be left behind. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and claiming lives around the world, impacting the livelihoods and well-being of people, we also witness an immense burden on communities and health systems. These challenges are described here in a recent testimony from community health workers operating in a township in South Africa. Despite the many hurdles, what shines through is the resilience of dedicated health workers. They, with limited resources, have adapted during the pandemic to ensure that essential medicines continue to be delivered to those in need.

In a recent panel discussion I attended during the Davos Agenda, we discussed collateral damage and how our hard-earned gains in communicable and non-communicable diseases are being threatened as health services are overwhelmed during the pandemic. Many people are avoiding attendance at health facilities and, coupled with disrupted health services, this contributes directly to late diagnosis and poor treatment outcomes.

The effects of COVID-19 on other diseases and health conditions are undeniable, yet COVID-19 has also emerged as an unprecedented opportunity, potentially offering key collateral benefits. We have seen that science can deliver extraordinary innovation, that unexpected partnerships are possible, that regulation can be streamlined without compromising on quality and, most of all, that all of this can be done at a quite unprecedented pace. At the same time, there is now a growing willingness to learn from the things we have got wrong and a determination never to repeat those mistakes. There is thus an extraordinary opportunity to build on both what we are getting right and what we are getting wrong. The key will be to ensure we really do that when the immediate pressure of COVID-19 subsides.

Over the past year, MPP engaged extensively with our partners, monitored the treatment and technology landscape and offered our voluntary licensing expertise. Owing to this experience, we were called upon to be part of both the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator (treatment pillar) and the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP). Last November, 21 generic manufacturers pledged their capacity to work with MPP and produce COVID-19 treatments and technologies as they become available, and we urge others to join them. We have also grown the content of MedsPaL, MPP’s patents and licences database that contains information on over 135 patented priority medicines, including those under development to treat COVID-19. To know more about what MedsPaL has to offer, check out our short animation recently released. Finally we have offered our licensing expertise to efforts to increase local production of key technologies for the future.

In the meantime, our voluntary licences in HIV and hepatitis C have continued to deliver impact. By the end of 2020, through our voluntary licensing mechanism, MPP’s 22 sublicensees supplied 18.5 billion doses of quality generic treatment to 148 countries. The impact of the supply of doses represents an estimated savings of USD 1.92 billion to the international community and an average price reduction of 81%. In 2020 alone, our licensees delivered 5.5 billion doses of treatment representing 14.7 million treatment-years.

Today, we mark World Health Day 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls on leaders to ensure that everyone, everywhere, can realise their right to good health. To help countries achieve this, we all have a role to play. At MPP, we will continue to contribute to this global effort by making medicines affordable and available in LMICs. Together, we are ready to build back a better, fairer and healthier world.