Tag: development policy

Sweden’s Development Policy since 1990: A policy paradigm shift waiting to happen?

Stockholm, Sweden, street

Jan Pettersson, Managing Director of the Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA), has published a journal article in Forum for Development Studies, Volume 49, 2022, analyzing the history of the Swedish development aid policy since 1990.

Poverty reduction – the overarching goal of Swedish aid

Since the birth of the formal Swedish development policy in 1962, the overarching goal of Swedish aid has been poverty reduction. While the goal has been up for revision four times (under two social democratic and two conservative governments) it has only been rephrased rather than reformed.

In addition, Sweden’s ambition to devote one per cent of its gross national income to development aid each year has been largely upheld since it was first achieved in 1975, save a period of 13 years (1993–2005, under the social democratic rule) where it was abandoned with reference to budgetary pressures. Aid was, however, never less than 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI).

Goals and volumes not being altered over time, even under government changes, suggest Swedish development cooperation policy has been formed under consensus. This apparent continuity, however, masks some important differences between political parties’ policy preferences, and the stability may be better explained by large majorities being in favour of current policies than by consensus.

Jan Pettersson, argues that the preconditions for those differing ideational positions to be translated into policy change are today quite favorable, suggesting that a policy paradigm shift, a ‘radical policy change’, may be in the making.

COP27 – Launch of the Sharm El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda

sunset, Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt

On 8 November, the COP27 Presidency, in partnership with the High Level Champions, launched the Sharm-El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda at COP27. This agenda aims to focus global action on 30 adaptation targets needed to close the adaptation gap and create a resilient world by 2030. At the launch, COP27 President Sameh Shoukry and High-Level Champions Mahmoud Mohieldin and Nigel Topping called on all State and non-State actors to join this critical Agenda, according to COP27 news.

About the Sharm El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda

“The Sharm El-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda outlines 30 Adaptation Outcomes to enhance resilience for 4 billion people living in the most climate vulnerable communities by 2030. Each outcome presents global solutions that can be adopted at a local level to respond to local climate contexts, needs and risks and deliver the systems transformation required to protect vulnerable communities to the rising climate hazards, such as extreme heat, drought, flooding, or extreme weather.”

“Collectively, these outcomes represent the first comprehensive global plan to rally both State and non-State actors behind a shared set of adaptation actions that are required by the end of this decade across five impact systems: food and agriculture, water and nature, coastal and oceans, human settlements, and infrastructure, and including enabling solutions for planning and finance.”

“The 30 Adaptation Outcomes include urgent global 2030 targets related to:

  • Transitioning to climate resilient, sustainable agriculture that can increase yields by 17% and reduce farm level greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 21%, without expanding agricultural frontiers, and while improving livelihoods including of smallholder farmers
  • Protecting and restoring an estimated 400 million hectares in critical areas (land and freshwater ecosystems) supporting indigenous and local communities with use of nature-based solutions to improve water security and livelihoods and to transform 2 billion hectares of land into sustainable management.
  • Protecting 3 billion people by installing smart and early warning systems
  • Investing USD 4 billion to secure the future of 15 million hectares of mangroves through collective action to halt loss, restore, double protection and ensure sustainable finance for all existing mangroves.
  • Expanding access to clean cooking for 2.4 billion people through at least USD 10 billion/year in innovative finance.
  • Mobilising USD 140 to USD 300 billion needed across both public and private sources for adaptation and resilience and spur 2,000 of the world’s largest companies to integrate physical climate risk and develop actionable adaptation plans”

This article was first published by the COP27 news.

Exploring WASH outcomes in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda

International workshop participants, including SEI Research Fellow Dr Nelson Ekane (left).

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Governance of water, sanitation and hygiene services in most countries in Africa is characterized by the state acting through non-state actors in supposedly flexible and inclusive state–citizen interactions with non-state actors (private and civil society) filling gaps in resources and service delivery.

However, the outcomes in terms of inclusive, sustainable and cost-effective service delivery is mixed in many cases. In part, this reflects that some public and private agencies delivering basic services face problems of legitimacy due to low levels of accountability and trust.

International networking event

Researchers and practitioners from Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Sweden explored the links between quality of government and water, sanitation and hygiene outcomes at a recent international networking event organized by SEI and the Institute for Human Settlement Studies (IHSS) at Ardhi University.

The theme of the workshop in Tanzania was “Quality of Government and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Outcomes”. The purpose of this meeting was to:

  • officially present established country teams in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, including the roles of the team members
  • discuss and validate a research proposal, including case study designs for implementation in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda
  • explore links with other national and international partners and networks.

What drives citizen perceptions of WASH services?

SweDev member Dr Ekane outlined the research agenda of the network and the specific research questions that the network explores. The main aim of the research is to understand how the type and quality of services provided to citizens in rural, peri-urban and urban settings influence citizen perceptions of public and private service providers and the willingness of citizens to pay for services and participate actively in community development.

The project also examines how well citizen perceptions align with expectations from the government and other non-state actors involved in service delivery and aims to reduce barriers that women and other vulnerable groups face in effectively demanding improved WASH services and otherwise participating in the sector. The research will be carried out in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda and the research questions include:

  • How do different macro- and micro governance contexts influence citizens’ perception of the type and quality of services they receive in rural, urban and peri-urban settings?
  • To what extent does the type and quality of services citizens receive from the government and other actors influence their willingness to pay (WTP) for services and participate in development?
  • What are the perceived expectations of citizens from government and other actors providing basic services and how do they match or mismatch with the services provided?
  • How can citizen participation support the development of human-centered smart WASH strategies that enhance user satisfaction through improved supply, transparency and accountability?

“During the workshop, we explored the potential for future collaborative research, looking beyond 2022. In terms of progress, a key success is that the three country teams are now established and hosted by the University of Rwanda, Kyambogo University in Uganda and Ardhi University in Tanzania.”

Dr. Nelson Ekane, SEI Research Fellow, SweDev member and workshop leader

Dr Tatu Limbumba, Director of the Institute of Human Settlement Studies (IHSS) at Ardhi University, hoped that the participants would have fruitful discussions and highlighted the role of IHSS, a research arm of Ardhi University responsible for research, training and public services.

Presentations during this two-day workshop event were given by Dr Yohannes Kachenje, Ardhi University, Elisabeth Constance Nahimana, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority and Joseph Hahirwabasenga, University of Rwanda, Martin N Mawejje, Water for People-Uganda Kyambogo University, Uganda, and SEI Research Fellow and Development and Aid Policy team member Dr Nelson Ekane.

Established teams in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda

Dr Ekane reported that network country teams have been established in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. These teams are hosted by the University of RwandaArdhi University in Tanzania and Kyambogo University in Uganda.

Dr Ekane noted the network’s participation at the Africa Water and Sanitation Week 2021, where it held a session on “Quality of Government and Access to Clean Water and Sanitation: A New International Network and Research Agenda”. Several key recommendations from the session are represented in the resolutions from the conference, referred to as the Windhoek Multi-Stakeholders’ Resolutions for Accelerating Water Security and Access to Safely Managed Sanitation and Hygiene in Africa.

Written by Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer within SweDev at SEI. Edited by Nelson Ekane, SweDev member and SEI Research Fellow.

Is ‘right to food’ a way forward for food security in Swedish aid?

Recent years have seen an increase in hunger and malnutrition. The latest issue on the state of food security and nutrition by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) showed that reaching SDG 2 by 2030 is becoming increasingly difficult. In light of this development, support to agricultural development in the Global South continues to play a crucial part in the effort to provide food security for all.

The main goal of the seminar on hunger, food security and agriculture was to present two reports regarding Swedish aid to agriculture and to discuss their findings. The first report is an evaluation commissioned by Sida, on how Sida approaches and work with food security in its programmes, and where there is room for improvement. The second report, published by SEI for the Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA), maps trends in Swedish aid to agriculture from 2005 to 2020.

 Evaluation on how Sida approaches food security

The evaluation on how Sida approaches food security concludes that Sida lacks focus and direction in its work with food security. Sida has many relevant specific programmes that impact on food security. However, apart from those working with agriculture, most Sida staff do not see food security as being relevant for their work. The EBA report find that agriculture and food security have low priority and visibility in Swedish aid. As the development landscape changed, so has also Swedish aid to agriculture. An integrated agricultural development agenda now includes agronomic, environmental, social and economic aspects of agricultural development. This indicates that aid to agriculture is integrated into other development areas, but also that aid to agriculture is invisible and underreported in Swedish aid.

Is aid to agriculture in Swedish development cooperation insufficient? Or is the integration of agriculture into other thematic areas positive for the overall aim of Swedish development policy? Mats Hårsmar, Deputy Managing Director at EBA asked these questions and introduced the seminar. By looking at food security from different perspectives, the panel departed from the new reports and discussed both the current and future situation of Swedish aid to agriculture.

This article points to three relevant takeaways from the seminar to generate action around the vision of sustainable agriculture and food security, and to promote multisectoral dialogue around these issues.

1. Building human resource capacity

The lack of knowledge on agriculture and food security was highlighted by Ian Christopolos, evaluator at Glemminge Development Research, explaining that “there are not many left in Sida that work with agriculture.” A comparison was made with the embassies abroad having more knowledge and insights into these issues than those working at the Swedish offices of Sida Stockholm. Agreeing with this statement, Linley Chiwona Karltun, a Researcher at SLU, pointed out the shrinking of human resource capacity in the form of academic competence and expertise employed by Sida. She explained that there is currently a rift between academia and development work. Students are encouraged to study issues related to sustainable development, but the road to actual employment within the development sector is difficult to navigate. She also claimed that people with agricultural expertise are increasingly rare in the Swedish resource base.

The EBA report further highlighted the issue of human resource capacity at Sida. Ivar Virgin, a Senior Research Fellow at SEI, and one of the authors of the EBA report, stated that there has been a decrease in agricultural-related competence within Sida and that the available thematic expertise is more spread out now than before. Agriculture is seen as a sector and “food security is something that people working with agriculture does, it is not our [Sida’s] responsibility,” was an answer Christopolos’ team got from their interviewees at Sida. By not clarifying the goals and targets within Sida’s programmes, Christopolos fear that food security can have a similar fate as nutrition. The agricultural sector views nutrition as a health issue and the health sector views it as an agricultural issue. With neither of them taking responsibility it risks falling through the cracks.

2. Increasing dialogue

Not widely mentioned in the reports, dialogue and networking were also brought to attention during the discussions. Virgin experienced the dialogue around food security and what sustainable agricultural development entails as lacking, particularly within Sida. The panellists all agreed that an increase in conversations around the issues of food security is important. However, True Shedvin, Head of Sida’s Unit for Global Sustainable Economic Development, highlighted that the national-level networks of Sida staff with agricultural expertise are well structured for their specific contexts in Sida’s partner countries. The issue then seemed to be on a Swedish level, where most of the panel agreed that more work should be done. Chiwona Karltun stressed the importance to continue to work against silo thinking.

3. ‘Food is different’

To clarify the desired achievement with food security, Christopolos and his team suggested the implementation of a “right to food” perspective that would place the issue of food security within the right-based views at Sida. Currently, food security is mentioned as an implicit goal in strategies and programmes working with livelihoods, but it is unclear in what context. Furthermore, there is no measurement of whether food security is practically implemented, so it is difficult to know if the programmes that implicitly mention food security result in providing food security. One way of resolving this issue could be for Sida to have a more goal or target-oriented focus on food security, continued Christopolos. This could provide the measure and evaluation of results and increase the pressure set by Sida on organisations working with these issues, such as the FAO.

Arne Bigsten, Senior Professor at the University of Gothenburg was hesitant to implement the ‘Right to food’ perspective as it can be vague and elusive. He preferred Sida’s definition of food security, which is viewed as related to business and livelihood, rather than being a source of food for household consumption. Economic growth is the solution to hunger, by increasing growth in the agricultural sector it can ensure that food availability remains high on both a national and household level, continued Bigsten.

Matilda Baraibar Norberg, a Researcher on economic history at Stockholm University agreed that the ‘right to food’ perspective could be seen as a little “airy” but noted that implementing this perspective could show that “food is different” and highlighted the declaration of the right to food as a human right by the UN.

This article was written by Nathalia Grandon at SIANI, and first published on www.SIANI.se.

How Africa wants to strengthen efforts to protect the environment

trash, beach, plastic

At the 18th meeting of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), African environment ministers pledged to end plastic pollution, stop open dumping and burning of waste, and fight antimicrobial resistance. The conference was held in Dakar, Senegal, from 12 to 16 September 2022. Mohamed Atani and David Ombisi from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) summarise the main outcomes of the conference.

“The President of AMCEN and Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Senegal, H.E Abdou Karim Sall, emphasised that the session comes in the wake of a regional health, food, energy and financial crisis that particularly impacts Africa, denoting urgency to the conference’s theme of “securing people’s well-being and ensuring environmental sustainability in Africa.””

“On pollution, ministers committed to:

  • eliminate open dumping and burning of waste in Africa and to promote use of waste as a resource for value and job creation. They called on development partners to support African countries to better monitor and reduce methane and black carbon emissions associated with waste.
  • improve awareness on the risks that antimicrobial resistance poses to human health and sustainable development in Africa. They also called for urgent and collective action to prevent and minimise adverse impacts of antimicrobial resistance.”

This article was first published by Mohamed Atani and David Ombisi in the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Comment on the development research overview

Women carrying firewood in Sierra Leone.

Now, there is an opportunity to comment on the preliminary version of the overview for development research crafted by the Swedish Research Council’s Committee for Development Research. Comments should be submitted latest 12 October 2022.

“This is a great opportunity for organizations, universities and SweDev members to give their viewpoints and influence the future of development research.”

Fredrik Söderbaum, Chair of SweDev and Professor of Peace Development Research at the University of Gothenburg.

The Swedish Research Council’s Committee for Development Research supports research of the highest scientific quality within its area of research. The Committee has nine members who represent research areas of relevance to low-income countries and lower middle-income countries.

“The SweDev Executive Committee and the Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University and the President of Karolinska Institutet have provided four concrete solutions on how to increase collaboration between researchers and decision-makers in development policymaking,” Fredrik Söderbaum added.

Comments to the Swedish Research Council

All comments received by the Swedish Research Council are recorded in a diary and become public documents. Please send your comments by email to no later than 12 October.

SweDev network partners 

SweDev partners with organizations, agencies, and institutions in Sweden and globally for greater collaboration and reach. Our partners become a part of our network and share SweDev’s aim to increase researcher collaboration and research-based knowledge for efficient policymaking and practice. 

We encourage different types of collaborations with our partners such as co-arranging seminars, sharing news and reports, or writing blog posts for our website. The collaboration will give our partner organizations increased visibility through the SweDev network.   

Join SweDev as a partner

Welcome to explore our website, the SweDev community and contact us at if your organization wants to become a partner. 

DN Debatt: Four solutions to increase research in Sweden’s development policy

Cooperation for sustainable development

There is almost consensus on the importance of science and research to solve global challenges, such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Despite this, there are major shortcomings in the collaboration between decision-makers and researchers, write the Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University and the President of Karolinska Institutet together with the Chair, Co-Chair and Director of the Swedish Development Research Network (SweDev), in an op-ed published by Dagens Nyheter.

Today, the world is facing several crises and the work with sustainable development has never been more relevant. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw increases in both inequality and poverty in the world. The effects of global warming are visible globally, for example, through prolonged drought and heavy monsoon rains. Science and research are crucial to solving these challenges.

Research is needed to be able to understand complex processes, the expressions and solutions to poverty, but also to achieve results in Sweden’s development policy. Studies conducted by SweDev show that despite that both decision-makers and researchers say that integrating research-based knowledge is important, interaction between them is poor. Decision-makers say that they do not have time to read and use research and researchers say that they do not have knowledge on what is current in policy-making.

“Changes are needed to increase the use of research in Sweden’s development policy”

Four concrete proposals for measures on how to increase collaboration between researchers and decision-makers in development policymaking are presented in the op-ed written by Anders Hagfeldt, Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University; Ole Petter Ottersen, President of Karolinska Institutet; Jesper Sundewall, Vice Chair of SweDev and Docent in global health systems at Lund University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal; Fredrik Söderbaum, Chair of SweDev and Professor in peace and development research at Gothenburg University and Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev at Stockholm Environment Institute.

Government and government agencies must:

  1. Give research-based knowledge greater weight in decision-making. It is a failure that decision-makers state that they do not have time to use research in their work. That development policy must be based on research and evidence should be given. The new government needs to emphasize the importance of research-based policymaking in both policy documents and appropriation letters to the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency Sida, and other relevant government agencies. The Government Office and government agencies should prioritize research-based decision-making in their work. The authorities need to develop processes for the integration of research-based knowledge in decision-making and give employees time and resources for this. Special programmes are needed to connect researchers and research to the implementation of aid projects and for researchers to be able to serve in international organizations.
  2. Stop the dismantling of the Swedish academic resource base. The Swedish Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, has recently announced the discontinuation of programs for competence development within the academy such as Minor Field Studies, the Linnaeus-Palme program and the global school. Programmes for knowledge development and partnerships with Swedish researchers (for example through SweDev) have also been denied funding. The decisions go against the needs for increased competence in sustainable development. Without broad Swedish expertise on development issues, the quality of development cooperation will be undermined. The government must therefore stop the dismantling of the Swedish resource base and instead make it clear that continued investment in Swedish research competence with relevance to the 2030 Agenda is needed.
  3. Institutionalize long-term collaboration platforms for development and sustainability issues. Knowledge-sharing, co-creation of knowledge and exploring new research areas are fundamental to increasing innovation in development issues and for the 2030 Agenda. Programmes such as the Swedish Institute for Global Health Transformation (SIGHT) and SweDev have both contributed to building broad systematic platforms where decision makers can collaborate with researchers, including actors in business and civil society. The government needs to ensure that these types of arenas are given the conditions to be institutionalized and developed.
  4. Researchers and the research community must place greater emphasis on how research findings can be used in decision-making. Researchers’ collaboration with society is one of the main tasks of academia but needs to be given higher priority. Researchers need to be given opportunities to increase their knowledge of decision-making conditions and how research findings can be used by decision-makers.

Sweden has a strong tradition of conducting research and building knowledge relevant to development and sustainability issues. Therefore, Sweden should also take responsibility for the research findings being used to solve challenges such as the global sustainability goals.

A great responsibility lies on the researchers. At the same time, politics must create opportunities for better collaboration between decision-makers and researchers. This requires strategic investments to integrate research into decision-making, and to maintain and renew the Swedish resource base.

DN Debatt Repliker: “Both academia and politics bear the responsibility for better collaboration”

In a letter to the editor, the authors of the op-ed in Dagens Nyheter, states that a combination and a deeper joint development of knowledge is needed for improved collaboration, where both parties have a responsibility. They write that “collaboration is something long-term and means strengthening relationships between people with knowledge from different directions.”

“Decision makers need to be clear about the issues they are grappling with. They also need to use the available research as a map to navigate to achieve their goals.”

Transcript written by Ylva Rylander, Communications Officer for SweDev at Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). Edited by Janet Vähämäki, Director of SweDev and Team Lead for Development and Aid Policy at SEI.

Research Associate for bioeconomy at SEI

book, man, leather bag

Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Latin America is recruiting for a Research Associate to support the centre’s work related to the bioeconomy in pursuit of a more sustainable future for human communities and natural ecosystems, contributing to the management and implementation of research, policy engagement and capacity development activities.


21 September 2022.


Fixed-term employment, full time, in Bogotá, Colombia.

Main responsibilities

  • Conduct market studies and analysis for bioproducts and services derived from agricultural commodities and/or natural biodiversity and propose competitive strategies to improve economic, social and environmental performance.
  • Generate sustainable business plans for bioproducts or bioresources within the bioeconomy.
  • Conduct value chain and value web analysis to identify opportunities for improved sustainability and competitiveness related to bioproducts or bioresources within the bioeconomy. Provide recommendations to businesses, trade associations and allied institutions to realize these opportunities.
  • Evaluate impacts and performance on income and employment generation for bioeconomy plans, programs, projects and businesses.
  • Prepare written material to disseminate project results, including reports, scientific publications, guides, manuals and presentations.
  • Supervise the work of technical staff and external consultants related to project activities.
  • Support fundraising and the development of new proposals relevant to the bioeconomy line of research.
  • Promote collaboration with other research lines within SEI Latin America through joint work and proposal development.

About SEI

Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) is an independent international research institute founded in 1989. Its mission is to support decision-making and induce change towards sustainable development around the world by providing integrative knowledge that bridges science and policy in the field of environment and development. SEI ranked second among the most influential environment think tanks in the world in the 2020 Global Go To Think Tank Report compiled by the University of Pennsylvania’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program.

SEI has around 300 employees working at research centres in seven countries around the world. SEI’s headquarters are located in Stockholm, Sweden, with other centres in Estonia (SEI Tallinn), Kenya (SEI Africa), Thailand (SEI Asia), the UK (SEI Oxford and SEI York) and the US (SEI US).

We need vaccine equity… not your leftovers.

Covid-19 vaccine.

In January 2021, Dr. Tedros, WHO Director-General, warned that the unequal distribution of Covid-19 vaccines was about to be a “catastrophic moral failure”. At that time, rich countries had already guaranteed the purchase of more doses of vaccines than the number of inhabitants on Earth, effectively leaving other countries without access. In December 2021, reflecting the already predictable greedy gluttony, poor countries refused to receive nearly 100 million doses of donated vaccines because they were about to expire. These stories remind me of the legend of the ancient Roman aristocrats who vomited between courses to make the most of all the extravagance of endless banquets. And both the Romans and the current practice of rich countries illustrate a fragile morality.

Urgent vaccine development

The rapid escalation of Covid-19 in the first quarter of 2020 marked the beginning of a rush to vaccine development. Never in such a short time, has so many public funds been allocated to fund the research and development of a new vaccine. Due to the immense contribution of public investment, the possibility of having a vaccine free of intellectual property rights was idealized. A real hope that would allow for technology transfer, leading to large-scale production at a global level. However, one and a half years after the first vaccine was licensed, the world is still witnessing inequality and inequity in access, reflected in the discrepancy in vaccination coverage. While the average of fully vaccinated individuals in high-income countries is 57%, this rate is below 5% in low-income countries.

The COVAX Facility was put in place to pool vaccine purchases globally for low- and middle-income countries, negotiating fair and competitive prices to allow all countries to access the vaccines. However, in practice, rich countries took the lead, entering contracts directly with pharmaceuticals, leaving negotiations with COVAX in the background. It is precisely this negotiating power that patents bring to pharmaceutical companies. They decide how, to whom, and when to sell. The report “A Dose of Reality” exposes that western Pharmaceuticals have delivered only 12 percent of the doses they allocated to COVAX. The same report points out that of the 1.8 billion Covid-vaccine donations promised by wealthy nations, only 261 million doses – 14 percent – ​​have been delivered to date. As a result, low-income countries are forced to participate in negotiating directly with pharmaceuticals, but in unfair competition, they end up paying up to 3 times the amount paid by rich countries.

Time to break the patent of vaccines?

So, is this the time to break the patent on Covid-19 vaccines? In 2021, more than 100 countries – led by India and South Africa – appealed to the World Trade Organization for patents to be provisionally waived by pharmaceutical corporations so that more countries could produce and sell Covid-19 vaccines and thereby increase access for low-income countries. Their call was left unanswered. On the other side, rich countries and pharmaceutical companies keep intoning the mantra that intellectual property right is fundamental to cover their expenses and enable and incentive research and development of new technologies. The companies made this argument, despite the fact that Covid-19 vaccines were funded largely by public investments. No other example represents this contradiction more than AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which had 97% public funding and was initially designed as a non-profit undertaking.

It may sound extreme, but many countries have loopholes in their constitutions that authorize their government to break patents. In Brazil, for example, if the patent holder practices financial abuse, and in the United States, in national insecurity through compulsory licensing, the government can temporarily withdraw patents of essential products. One of the most remarkable examples of breaking a patent was when in 1998, South Africa broke the patent of 39 HIV drugs at once after concluding that prices were far too high to implement a universal treatment model. That year, pharmaceutical corporations mobilized actions against South Africa, demanding sanctions at the WTO. However, the comprehensive media coverage and corporate bad will led companies to drop the lawsuit and begin negotiations with the South African Government to address price reduction.

“We have failed as a society”

The difference now is that middle-income countries with the potential to be leading producers of patent-free vaccines, such as Brazil, South Africa, and India, already have contracts guaranteeing the necessary access for their vaccine coverage following the WHO targets. Thus, the fight for breaking patents is not an agenda of their interest, leaving the world’s poorer countries without essential allies. Perhaps the issue is a moral one. Instead of fighting to break patents, patents should never have existed, at least during a global pandemic, which so far has led to the death of 6 million people. When it comes to covid-19 vaccines we have failed as a society. We are experiencing a catastrophic moral failure.

Written by a Master student at Lund University. Edited by Jesper SundewallAssociate Professor of health economics at HEARD at University of KwaZulu-Natal and of Global Health Systems at the Social Medicine and Global Health division at Lund University.