Tag: Politics

Afghanistan tackles the Islamic State

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Photo-Wikipedia

By Vijay Prasad*

On October 8, a terrible blast struck the worshippers attending Friday noon prayers at the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque in the Khan Abad district of Bandar, the capital of Kunduz, one of Afghanistan’s largest cities in its northern belt. This is a mosque frequented by Shia Muslims, who were referred to as “our compatriots” by Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid. Forty-six people died immediately in the blast, and local officials said that many more people were injured in the incident. Not long afterward, the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K), took credit for the attack on its Telegram channel. The suicide bomber was identified as Mohammed al-Uyguri by ISIS-K.

The name of the attacker raised red flags across the region. It indicated that he belonged to the Uyghur community and had a relationship with the Xinjiang region of western China, which is home to most of the world’s Uyghur population. That a Chinese extremist attacked a Shia mosque raised eyebrows in Beijing and in Tehran.

Foreign Terrorists

In June 2021, the United Nations reported on the presence of between 8,000 and 10,000 “foreign terrorist fighters” in Afghanistan. The report further stated that these fighters were mainly “from Central Asia, the north Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, Pakistan and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China.” Although most of the fighters had reported an affiliation with the Taliban, “many also support Al-Qaida” and “[o]thers are allied with ISIL or have ISIL sympathies,” said the report. ISIL refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, whose Afghan franchise is ISIS-K.

In 2019, in Turkey, I encountered a group of Uyghur fighters from various terrorist organizations, including the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), which is now called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP). These were hardened fighters, whose main goal was to fight “infidels”; they did not seem interested in anything other than that. The United Nations placed the ETIM on their terrorist list in 2002.

During the war on Syria, large sections of the ETIM—as the TIP—moved to the Syria-Turkey border. The TIP is now largely based in Idlib, Syria, which is the hub of various global jihadi organizations. When it became clear that the Taliban was going to take power in Afghanistan, many jihadis from Central Asia—including from China and Tajikistan—left Idlib for Afghanistan. ETIM’s leader Abdul Haq remains in Syria, where he is also a member of the Shura Council of Al Qaeda.

Worries Abound in Iran…

On October 4, four days before the attack on the mosque in Afghanistan, an Iranian delegation arrived in Afghanistan to hold talks about cross-border trade and to seek assurances that the Taliban will not permit attacks on either Afghan Shia or on Iran. Meanwhile, in Kabul, governors of two neighboring border provinces of Iran’s Khorasan Razavi (Mohammad Sadegh Motamedian) and Afghanistan’s Herat (Maulvi Abdul Qayum Rohani) agreed on facilitating more cross-border trade and ensuring that there is no cross-border violence. In another meeting that took place on October 4 with Motamedian at the Iranian border town of Taybad, Rohani’s deputy Maulvi Sher Ahmad Ammar Mohajer said that the Afghan government will “never allow individuals or foreign groups such as ISIS to use Afghan territory against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” “We (Iran and Afghanistan) have defeated the common enemy,” Maulvi Rohani said in reference to the United States.

All signs indicate some sincerity on the part of the Taliban government. On October 7, the day before the ISIS-K attack on the Shia mosque in Kunduz, Maulvi Abdul Salam Hanafi—the deputy prime minister of Afghanistan—met with a group of Shia elders to assure them that the Taliban would not allow anti-Shia activity. Nevertheless, members of the Hazara community—who are the Shia community of Afghanistan—tell me that they fear a return to the previous rule of the Taliban; during that time, documented massacres by the Taliban against the Hazara Shia community provided evidence of the Taliban’s sectarianism. This is why Iran opposed the Taliban, and why Iran has not formally recognized the current government in Kabul. However, for the past few years, the Iranians have been working with the Taliban against ISIS and ISIS-K, with Iran’s Brigadier General Esmail Qaani as the liaison to the Taliban.
…And in China

In the 1990s, the Taliban government allowed the ETIM and other Uyghur groups to operate from Afghanistan. This time, there is already evidence that they will not officially permit such activity. Earlier this year, ETIM fighters had relocated from Syria to the Badakhshan province in Afghanistan; reports suggested that the fighters had gathered in the sparsely populated Wakhan Corridor in the province, which leads to China. But in recent weeks, the Taliban security has moved them from the towns surrounding the “Afghan-Chinese border” to other parts of Afghanistan (rumors have been flying about the Taliban’s intention to extradite the ETIM—if not all the 2,000 Uyghurs in Afghanistan—to China, but these rumors are unconfirmed).

In late August, Mattia Sorbi of Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper met with Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid. This was a significant interview for the Taliban because Italy is a key partner of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Mujahid told Sorbi that China is currently assisting Afghanistan with short-term funds (including $31 million in emergency funds) and that the Taliban see the BRI as their “passport to markets around the world.” China’s long-term concession of the Mes Aynak copper mine, south of Kabul, will allow it “to come back to life and be modernized,” said Mujahid. The Taliban is keen on the BRI, he said, “which will lead to reviving the ancient Silk Road.”

The BRI runs on both sides of Afghanistan, the northern route through Tajikistan to Iran and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor running southward. The mouth of the Wakhan Corridor would be the opening of a third route, running toward Kabul and to Iran (and linking Pakistan’s agricultural goods to markets in Central Asia and Russia).

Isolation from China and Iran is not a welcome thought in Kabul. The United States is prepared to reengage with the Taliban, which could alter the equations on the ground. If the U.S. allows Kabul to access the funds in its central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank, (sitting in New York) or the IMF funds, these funds will help provide the Taliban with a lifeline. But they are not a solution for Afghanistan, which is caught as it is between China and Iran and the possibility of its connection to the new silk road.

* Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He has written 20 books and is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter.
Source: Globetrotter

NEWS ANALYSIS: Diversity in political representation in Australia a far cry

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By Neeraj Nanda

MELBOURNE, 18 September: Labor’s Kristina Keneally moving to the safe Labor seat of Fowler, at the cost of Vietnamese origin lawyer Tu Le, in Australia’s most multicultural Federal seat, has opened a can of worms, that’s too revealing.

Victoria has only one Indian-origin MP, Labor’s Kaushaliya Vaghela, from the Western Metropolitan Region. She was born in India. There is another MP who is of South Asian origin. In fact, people keep trying and years are lost. There could be many reasons, but the central message being that political representation in Australia is not diverse despite few exceptions.

Mr. Vasan Srinivasan, the former Liberal candidate from Forest Hill and the current Chairperson of the Mental Health Foundation of Australia (MHFA) talking to SAT said, ” We are the most successful multicultural nation, we have 200 plus nationalities and 200 plus languages spoken, and over 100 faiths practiced, living peacefully and in harmony, but are still lacking in political diversity.”

Mr. Manoj Kumar, former Labor candidate in Menzies (Federal), and Forest Hill (Victoria where he lost by a small margin) and from the Subcontinent Friend’s of Labor (SCFOL) has demanded a 20% quota at all levels of representation for people of color (non-Europeans) to ensure true inclusion and diversity in Australia. The demand might be a shocker for Australian politicians, but portrays a popular community narrative that non-Europeans normally are pre-selected in seats where getting elected is as difficult as reaching Mars.

Surjeet Dhanji from the Melbourne University’s School of Social Sciences and Post-doctoral Fellow Australia India Institute in an article in the Melbourne Asia Review (The ‘missing’ Indian-Australians in politics) says: “A major finding of my research is that the complex process of preselection by political parties is a significant hurdle.

There is a prevailing perception among respondents that regardless of the contribution of these candidates to the community, first preference in winnable seats is given to candidates with Anglo-Celtic backgrounds.”

Today’s Guardian Australia tells the tale. According to the 2016 census, in Australia, 58% of the people are of Anglo-Celtic ancestry and 18 % European. Non-Europeans are 21 % and the owners of our country, the Aboriginal and Torris State Islands people are 3 %. Whitlam ended the White Australia policy in the 1970s and we now have a diverse multicultural population that has given great respect to Australia as the most diverse nation in the world. But this is not reflected politically. Diversity in political representation is a far cry.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in 2018 discloses (quoted in Guardian Australia) in Australia’s 45th Parliament there were only 4.1 % non-Europeans and 1.5 % indigenous people. It speaks for itself. One wonders if having a few names in the Senate and states is multiculturalism or a reflection of diversity.

The issue is well nailed by Osmond Chiu in Lowy Institute’s – The Interpreter (Australian Politics Should Be As Diverse As Its People – 23 March 2021 – lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/australian-politics-should-be-diverse-its-people?fbclid=IwAR3dK4BbT_GwxRSYdHmJdhpYfHq6WYE-oNHcQ4hJHfT-hSyw89MWLOO52y0):

“There is a powerful symbolism in improved political representation. It may sound trite, but you can’t be what you cannot see. Role models create a sense of viability – which matters because it encourages others to aim higher, and it elevates voices that will enable Australia as a country to move beyond the simplistic and one-dimensional conversations about race. It also shows that the claims that cohesive liberal democracies require homogeneity are false. Equality and freedom are not culturally specific – they are universal values.

Unless action is taken now, Australia’s democratic institutions will become even less representative as the country becomes more diverse. It is essential to push back against illiberal nationalism by demonstrating Australia’s multicultural liberal democracy delivers freedom and equality for all, regardless of citizens’ cultural background. The status quo reinforces a historical perception that Australia is a white settler colonial outpost, and it makes it harder to navigate an increasingly fraught regional geopolitical environment.”

Are Bezos and Musk Launching Us Into a New Space Age, or Just a U.S. Space Grab?

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By Prabir Purkayastha

The space race was once between two countries—the Soviet Union and the United States. It is now (at least on the surface) between three billionaires—Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Two of them—Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, and Bezos, founder of Blue Origin—recently rode their respective companies’ suborbital flights (meaning that they cannot be considered proper spaceflights, as they did not reach a stable orbit around the Earth). Branson’s space ambitions seem to be limited to developing a market for the exotica of space tourism. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have been playing for the long haul, with a series of rockets and launches already to the company’s credit, including to the International Space Station. Bezos and Blue Origin also fall into the latter camp.

Behind this apparent show of rich kids playing with their expensive space toys, there are bigger forces at play—namely, that big capital is entering spaceflight, hitherto the exclusive domain of nation-states. While it appears that three men with deep pockets are funding their respective space ventures, the reality is that it is the U.S. taxpayers who are funding these space efforts. In this new space age, the U.S. is also proposing to ride roughshod over the space agreements that space is a “global commons.” The U.S. would like to convert space into its “final frontier,” under the premise that space belongs to any country that can mine its riches.

Many people take for granted that the U.S. was the winner of the space race against the Soviet Union, since they beat the Soviets to the moon. But what is overlooked in this narrative is that the space competition is not simply about who sent the first man to the moon, but also about who built the better rockets.

Strangely enough, it was the fall of the Soviet Union that brought forth information that Soviet technology produced rocket engines that had consistently outperformed the American ones. Today, the Russian-produced rocket engines—RD-180 and RD-181—still power U.S. rockets. The Atlas rocket line, which is the mainstay of U.S. heavy-lift launch vehicles, uses RD-180 engines. Atlas is owned by United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. When Orbital Sciences (now a part of Northrop Grumman) was looking for launch vehicles for its Antares program, they used Soviet-era 40-year-old, mothballed NK-33 rocket engines. After one of them blew up due to cracks in the aging engines, Antares switched their rocket engines—to yet another engine designed and produced by Russians, the RD-181.

In 1992, just as Russian rocket engines were becoming the mainstay of the U.S. space program, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Russia’s Glavkosmos. Glavkosmos was Russia’s space marketing arm for selling cryogenic rocket engines and technology. These sanctions were only withdrawn after ISRO developed its own cryogenic engine technology. Russia’s contribution to India’s rocket program was the seven cryogenic engines that it sold to ISRO, a part of the N1 upper stage of the Soviet Union’s moon mission.

Why did the Soviet-era rockets perform better than the U.S. rockets? It is because the Soviets had mastered what is called the closed-cycle rocket engines well before the Americans. For any rocket capable of spaceflight, it needs both fuel—e.g., kerosene, hydrogen, or methane—and a burning medium, such as oxygen. Meanwhile, in an open-cycle engine—Saturn V of the Apollo program was an open-cycle design—a part of the fuel does not reach the main combustion chamber. It is used to power a turbo-compressor pumping fuel and oxygen and exits directly into the atmosphere. This results in a loss of efficiency for the engine, which then has to be compensated by carrying more fuel.

In a closed-cycle engine, or what is called “staged combustion,” the products of the first-stage combustion powering the turbo-compressor are fed to the main combustion chamber, avoiding any loss of fuel. The Soviet engineers had solved the problem of materials that had to withstand the extremely harsh conditions of injecting the products of oxygen-rich combustion into the main combustion chamber. The U.S. engineers thought that this was simply not possible and were shocked when, while visiting Russia in the ’90s, they were shown the mothballed engines of the ill-fated N1 project, the Soviet attempt at the moon shot. These were the engines that Orbital Sciences tried to use for their Antares program, christening them as AJ-26, before they switched to the more advanced Russian RD-181 engines.

Following the Ukraine crisis of 2014, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on many Russian companies. However, it still uses rocket engines sourced from Russia for its space program, both civilian and military. After the U.S. space shuttle program was shut down in 2011, taking U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station and bringing them back was left to Russian Soyuz rockets. It was only after SpaceX developed its space shuttle that the U.S. again had a spacecraft for carrying its astronauts to the International Space Station.

The U.S. Congress has decreed that U.S. companies will have to phase out the Russian engines from their military launches by the end of 2022. This is where Bezos and Musk come in, as both are vying for the future launches that the U.S. military and NASA are planning. Though it appears as if Musk and Bezos are developing the rockets using their own money, it is still NASA that is footing the bill. NASA pays upfront development costs and, later, price per launch.

If the rocket engines are the key to any serious space program, where does the U.S. stand in this new space age? ULA has had to switch to the U.S.-made engine as per the new NASA requirement. It has chosen the BE-4 rocket engine from Bezos’ Blue Origin, though ULA is reportedly unhappy with delays by Blue Origin and the lack of “attention and priority” the company is putting on the engine. The other rocket engines in the fray are from Musk’s SpaceX. Orbital Sciences still appears to be tied to Russian engines for its cargo services to the space station. So the U.S. rocket engines seem to be restricted to BE-4 from Blue Origin and SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket/Raptor engines. The American space race is essentially a two-horse race between the two super-rich billionaires.

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How do Bezos and Musk fund their space ventures? The public believes it is with money that the ‘visionary’ billionaires have made as a result of their acumen for entrepreneurship—they represent a version of Ayn Rand’s ‘heroes’ from her novels. The brutal truth is that Bezos as a capitalist has squeezed his workers, increasing their workload so much that they are unable to even take bathroom breaks. Amazon pays its workers wages that are “close to the poverty line for a family of four” and need to be supplemented by social welfare. The company has destroyed the small retail sector, and it competes with its own suppliers with Amazon-branded products and is “crushing them with competitive pricing.”

Musk claims to be the other visionary by developing Tesla, the electric car of the future. While the existing automakers were slow to develop electric cars, Tesla has an edge of being the early mover and cashing in on the environmental regulations in various countries that demanded that automakers earn carbon credits by selling a certain percentage of their output as electric cars. For example, in the first quarter of 2021, almost all of Tesla’s profits came from carbon credits it sells to other automakers. Since Tesla makes only electric cars, it has surplus carbon credits that it sells for a profit to other automakers. The crucial component of electric cars is the batteries, which Tesla outsources to others. One of the key battery suppliers to Tesla is Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL), which is the largest lithium battery manufacturer in the world. Its owner, Zeng Yuqun, has a net worth more than that of Jack Ma of Alibaba. What Musk has is a huge social media presence, which he has leveraged in hyping up his auto, and now space, ventures.

The other disturbing aspect of the new space age ushered in by the space billionaires is the U.S. policy of grabbing space for its private companies. This violates the Outer Space Treaty. The U.S. position is that whether or not outer space is a global commons, its commercial exploitation is open to all. This is a position the U.S. had on seabed mining in international waters as well. Such a policy privileges the powerful and technologically advanced states and is another way of blocking the essence of the global commons.

Behind this hype of a new space age is the reality of a new space grab. This is what Bezos and Musk represent: a new space age in which the billionaires can leave this world they are destroying in the hope of discovering new lands to conquer and again destroy.

Source: Globetrotter

NEWS ANALYSIS: A caring world needs a sharing world to end the COVID-19 pandemic

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A virus that mutates forever is a perpetual money-making machine for Big Pharma. Everybody else wants the world’s population to be vaccinated to control the spread of the pandemic.

By Prabir Purkayastha*

After three months of dithering, the Biden administration eventually agreed to a temporary waiver of patent rights for the COVID-19 vaccines. The proposal by South Africa and India for a waiver on intellectual property rights in the World Trade Organization has found support from a large number of countries and more than 400 public health organizations. The proposal now faces opposition from the European Union countries, which had earlier portrayed themselves to be more progressive than the United States. This portrayal was not difficult to achieve under the Trump administration. The latest move by Biden has, however, wrong-footed the EU, leaving the bloc as the only public supporter of Big Pharma in the WTO.

While appearing to support the South Africa-India proposal, the Biden administration has considerably narrowed down the scope of the waiver to just patents in comparison to what was there in the original proposal in the WTO: to waive all intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and medicine, including industrial designs, copyright, and trade secrets. These waivers are required to scale up vaccines from research and development to production at an industrial scale. The Biden patent waiver is, however, limited to vaccines only. It leaves out patents on Remdesivir and various monoclonal antibodies that have shown efficacy against COVID-19. Without extending the vaccine patent waiver to other property rights, the stance by the Biden administration of waiving only vaccine patents is more optics than a real effort to ramp up the fight against COVID-19. The issue of knowledge transfers, to scale up vaccine manufacturing in other countries, still needs to be fought and won.

Even if it is at the level of optics, there are several reasons behind the United States’ sudden change in its position. The United States has been relatively isolated because of its America First policy of hoarding vaccines and vaccinating all Americans first before exporting the vaccines to the rest of the world. According to an article in the New York Times in March, the United States was sitting on “tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” which it was not using, while the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT)-Accelerator program—and its vaccines pillar of COVAX, on which a large part of the world depends—has been facing difficulties getting vaccine supplies. And lastly, with India facing a huge surge in cases domestically and virtually stopping all vaccine exports, China has emerged as one of the only suppliers of vaccines to large parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. This is endangering Biden’s plans of a grand alliance against China, isolating it globally.

The U.S.’s unstated geostrategic vision is to support the Western Big Pharma companies to dominate the markets of rich countries, and the market for the rich in the rest of the world who can afford premium prices. Moderna is slated to generate a revenue of $19.2 billion this year from the sales of the COVID-19 vaccines, while Pfizer-BioNTech will rake in $26 billion in sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. This is the market that the rich countries want to protect.

The United States was banking on its new Quad partner, India, to provide vaccines to the rest of the world through the WHO’s COVAX program. The COVAX program, though nominally run by the WHO, is dominated by Bill Gates and his various vaccine initiatives: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which are co-leaders of the program. The Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing two vaccines (Covishield, which is licensed from AstraZeneca, and Novavax), and Biological E, which will produce the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine, were expected to provide about 2.6 billion to 3 billion doses per year from India for other countries, helping to vaccinate the global population.

This strategy faltered due to the utter incompetence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to use the indigenous capability of the country for rapidly ramping up India’s vaccine production. The other constraint was the virtual U.S. export ban under the 1950 Defense Production Act, which denied Indian vaccine manufacturers the vital equipment and raw materials required to scale up production of COVID-19 vaccines. At the “current global vaccination rates of roughly 6.7 million doses per day,” and to achieve the much-needed herd immunity where up to 85 percent of the population has been completely vaccinated, will take about 4.6 years, according to an April article in the New England Journal of Medicine. China and Russia have effectively emerged as the only two countries willing to offer their vaccines and technology to other countries grappling to control the spread of the virus.

If the United States had banked on the Modi government’s ability to compete with China on the vaccine front, they backed the wrong horse. The Modi administration failed miserably not only to anticipate a second wave in India, but also to invest in ramping up production of its indigenous vaccine, Covaxin, which was developed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the National Institute of Virology (NIV), in collaboration with Bharat Biotech, to increase the biopharmaceutical capacity of the country. Instead, the Modi government believed in the “magic” of the free market that would provide all the vaccines required without the need for any planning or government support.

The proponents of the patent monopoly, including Bill Gates, argue that a patent waiver is useless, as it is a lack of technology, knowledge and capital, not patents, that is holding up vaccine production outside the rich countries. If patents are not stopping vaccine production in other countries, then why did Big Pharma and the rich countries oppose the patent waiver in the WTO for the last six months? Why is there anger relating to the Biden administration’s current stand on patent waivers?
According to Big Pharma, a patent waiver on vaccines will disincentivize research and will be a huge blow to those who innovate. What they hide—and this is not new—is that most of the research money for the new vaccines has come from public funds. A Lancet paper published recently shows that governments and nonprofit organizations have given more than $10 billion for the development of the current crop of vaccines and other promising vaccine candidates. This does not include the billions of dollars that the U.S. and the UK governments paid to Pfizer and AstraZeneca for advance orders.

The argument of providing a monopoly to Big Pharma for incentivizing drug discovery is, therefore, a bogus one. Most of the research for the development of drugs and vaccines is supported by public funds and by government laboratories.

As far as the role of philanthropic money in developing private monopolies is concerned, it should be treated at par with public money as it comes out of tax-free dollars. Bill Gates and his initiatives—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—deserve a special mention here as the foundation has a direct role in strengthening Big Pharma monopoly. It was Gates and the power he wields through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gavi, and CEPI that led Oxford University’s Jenner Institute to abandon its initial idea of making their vaccine technology available to any company on a nonexclusive basis. Instead, it signed an exclusive contract with AstraZeneca.

There are three major technology platforms that have emerged in the development of the current lot of successful vaccines. The first includes the “old-fashioned” inactivated virus vaccines like China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm and India’s Covaxin. The second technology platform (adenovirus-based) uses a relatively innocuous virus as a vector to carry a SARS-CoV-2 protein—for example, AstraZeneca, CanSino, Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology’s Sputnik V, and Johnson & Johnson. The third type is the mRNA vaccine that tells the body cells to produce the SARS-CoV-2 protein, as in the case of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. All three of these technology platforms have produced successful vaccines.

Almost all of the Big Pharma arguments on why patent waivers are not of much use are for mRNA vaccine platforms. The argument by Big Pharma that countries such as India, China and South Korea—three of the largest generic vaccine manufacturing countries—do not have biologic capability is not correct, as the mRNA vaccines are not of immediate public health interest to most countries. The mRNA vaccines require an ultra-cold supply chain; otherwise, they degrade rapidly. The cost and effort involved in building such an ultra-cold supply chain preclude the use of mRNA vaccines in mass vaccination programs in most countries. What is of interest for most countries is the inactivated virus vaccines or the adenovirus vector vaccines.

The WHO-supported platforms—CEPI and Gavi—where Bill Gates has an outsized influence have focused much more on the new vaccine platforms, the mRNA and the adenovirus vector vaccine platforms, and not on the traditional inactivated virus vaccines. Dr. Ricardo Palacios of Butantan Institute, while speaking during a webinar organized by the South Centre on April 1, pointed out “that CEPI and COVAX funded largely newer vaccine technologies and had the tendency to disregard older technologies such as inactivated viruses”—for example, vaccines like China’s Sinovac and India’s Covaxin. These inactivated virus vaccines are effective, cost less, and can be produced easily in many developing countries. Before we dismiss these vaccines as yesterday’s technology, it is relevant to note that this is still the vaccine platform for flu vaccinations across the world and is used to manufacture about 1.5 billion doses per year.

Meanwhile, the only novel part of the adenovirus vector vaccines of AstraZeneca, CanSino, and Gamaleya’s Sputnik V is inserting a small spike protein snippet in the adenovirus vector and then growing the adenovirus as we do for the inactivated virus. Five companies in India, a consortium of South Korean companies, and another consortium of Chinese companies are planning to scale up the production of Sputnik V to about 1.5 to 2 billion doses per year.

For any company involved in biologics, this is pretty much routine technology. India has about 30 biologic manufacturers, and South Korea and China also have an established biologic industry. Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, and Latin American countries also have biologic drug manufacturing capability, and can therefore become major manufacturers. Cuba has developed five vaccines, out of which two are in advanced clinical trials. According to the WHO’s Global Vaccine Market Report 2020, three Indian companies (the Serum Institute of India [SII], the Haffkine Institute [Haffkine], and Bharat Biotech [BBIL]) provide about 44 percent of the world’s vaccines by dosage. The argument by Bill Gates recently in a Sky News interview that “it’s only because of our grants and our expertise” that the Indians (or Koreans, Chinese, Latin Americans, Africans, Arabs, etc.) can produce the vaccines is just a racist view of the world. This is a repetition of the white man’s burden that cloaked the earlier genocidal colonial enterprise.

The question the world needs to ask is if we want to spend the next few years protecting the monopoly profits of a few Big Pharma companies, and thereby condemn the world to a much longer COVID-19 pandemic. Or do we believe that public health demands rapid sharing of knowledge so that the world’s population can be vaccinated within the next 6-12 months? If the latter doesn’t happen, new virus mutations will keep emerging, requiring updating the vaccines constantly, making this a never-ending game of snakes and ladders. This is of interest to Big Pharma, as it will create a perpetual money-making machine for them. But it is not so for the people around the world who believe that a caring world needs sharing of knowledge.

* Prabir Purkayastha is a senior journalist & the founding editor of Newsclick. in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.

Source- Globetrotter

8 pharma billionaires increase wealth by $32 billion, ‘enough’ to vaccinate all in India

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Cyrus Poonwalla, Pankaj Patel

At least nine people have become new billionaires since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, thanks to the excessive profits pharmaceutical corporations with monopolies on Covid vaccines are making, the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), a global alliance advocating its available free of charge to all people in all countries, has revealed ahead of the G20 leaders Global Health Summit.
A movement of health, humanitarian, and human rights organizations, past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders, and economists, which also advocates that Covid-19 vaccines should be manufactured rapidly and at scale free of intellectual property protections, PVA said, key members of the G20, who meet on Thursday, UK and Germany, “are blocking moves to boost supply” of the vaccines “to devastate lives in countries like India and Nepal, where only a tiny fraction of the population has been vaccinated.”
Meanwhile, PVA said in a statement, the nine new billionaires have amassed “net wealth of $19.3 billion, enough to fully vaccinate all people in low-income countries 1.3 times”, adding, “These countries have received only 0.2 percent of the global supply of vaccines, because of the massive shortfall in available doses, despite being home to 10 percent of the world’s population.”
“In addition”, it said, “Eight existing billionaires – who have extensive portfolios in the Covid-19 vaccine pharma corporations – have seen their combined wealth increase by $32.2 billion, enough to fully vaccinate everyone in India.”
Two of the eight are from India: Cyrus Poonawalla, founder, Serum Institute of India, whose wealth increased from $ 8.20 billion to $ 12.70 billion in a year; and Pankaj Patel of Cadila Healthcare, whose wealth increased from $ 2.90 billion to $ 5.00 billion in a year. Patel’s controls listed company “manufactures drugs to treat Covid-19 such as Remdesivir from Gilead, and its Covid-19 vaccine, ZyCoV-D, is undergoing clinical trials”, said PVA.
Campaigners from the People’s Vaccine Alliance – whose members include Global Justice Now, Oxfam, and UNAIDS – reached this conclusion on the basis of an analysis of Forbes Rich List data to highlight the massive wealth being generated for a handful of people from vaccines that were largely public-funded.
Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s Health Policy Manager, said: “What a testament to our collective failure to control this cruel disease that we quickly create new vaccine billionaires but totally fail to vaccinate the billions who desperately need to feel safe.”
She added, “These billionaires are the human face of the huge profits many pharmaceutical corporations are making from the monopoly they hold on these vaccines. These vaccines were funded by public money and should be first and foremost a global public good, not a private profit opportunity. We need to urgently end these monopolies so that we can scale up vaccine production, drive down prices and vaccinate the world.”
According to PVA, “Vaccine billionaires are being created as stocks in pharmaceutical firms rise rapidly in expectation of huge profits from the Covid-19 vaccines over which these firms have monopoly control”, warning, “These monopolies allow pharmaceutical corporations total control over the supply and price of vaccines, pushing up their profits while making it harder for poor countries, in particular, to secure the stocks they need.”

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The PVA statement comes even as, earlier this month, US-backed proposals by South Africa and India at the World Trade Organisation to temporarily break up these monopolies and lift the patents on Covid-19 vaccines. This move has the support of over 100 developing countries, and in recent days countries like Spain have also declared their support, as has the Pope and over 100 world leaders and Nobel laureates.
“Despite this, other rich nations, including UK and Germany, are still blocking the proposal, putting the interest of pharmaceutical companies over what’s best for the world. Italy, who are hosting the G20 Global Health Summit tomorrow, are continuing to sit on the fence on the issue, as are Canada and France”, it said.
Heidi Chow, Senior Policy and Campaigns Manager at Global Justice Now, said: “As thousands of people die each day in India, it is utterly repugnant that the UK, Germany and others want to put the interests of the billionaire owners of Big Pharma ahead of the desperate needs of millions.
Chow added, “The highly effective vaccines we have are thanks to massive amounts of taxpayers’ money so it can’t be fair that private individuals are cashing in while hundreds of millions face second and third waves completely unprotected. It is a sad indictment of the loyalties of some current governments that a handful of people working for pharmaceutical companies have been allowed to become billionaires off the back of publicly-funded efforts to end the pandemic.”
Topping the list of new billionaires who have cashed in on the success of Covid vaccines are the CEOs of Moderna and BioNTech, each with wealth over $4 billion or more. The list includes two of Moderna’s founding investors and the company’s chair as well as the CEO of a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna vaccine.
“This is despite the fact the vast majority of funding for the Moderna vaccine was paid for by taxpayers. The final three new vaccine billionaires are all co-founders of the Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics”, the statement said.
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, said: “While the companies making massive profits from COVID vaccines are refusing to share their science and technology with others in order to increase the global vaccine supply, the world continues to face the very real risk of mutations that could render the vaccines we have ineffective and put everyone at risk all over again.”
She added, “The pandemic has come at a terrible human cost, so it is obscene that profits continue to come before saving lives.”

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Figures for vaccinating all poorest countries are analyzed by PVA based on countries defined as ‘Low Income’, for which the population is 775,710,612 (according to UN Population 2020). The average vaccine cost, $19, is based on the average mid-range cost per course of vaccination of the 5 leading vaccine producers.
“However”, it said, “The prices should be far lower and the $19 is for illustration purposes and is in no way an endorsement of these unacceptably high prices. The wealth of the new billionaires could vaccine all low-Income countries 1.3 times.”
For instance, it said, “The population of India (according to UN Population 2020) is 1.38 billion and the increase in wealth of the 8 existing billionaires could vaccine everyone in India 1.2 times. All figures based on a two-dose regimen (click here for vaccine doses in low-income countries data).

Source- counterview.net,May 20, 2021