Bridging the equity gap in access to and benefit sharing of biological materials must remain firmly on the global development agenda

Dr Calvin W.l. Ho1

1National University Of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

This paper argues that bridging the equity gap in access to and benefit sharing (ABS) of biological materials must remain firmly on the Global Development Agenda. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Nagoya Protocol (NP) mandate that ABS arrangements in relation to genetic materials should be governed by the ethical principles of fairness and equity. Where human biological or genetic materials are concerned, there has been a separate but related development in the context of influenza prevention, countermeasure and control to promote fair and equitable ABS. Specifically, the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) framework was established to share H5N1 and other influenza viruses with human pandemic potential, alongside assurance of access to vaccines and other (therapeutic) benefits. While the legality and legitimacy of the PIP framework is premised on the International Health Regulation, it is a development that is consistent with the requirements of the Nagoya Protocol, and by extension, the ethical principles of fairness and equity. Beyond the limited scope of the PIP framework however, there has been limited progress in ensuring that ABS arrangements meet the requirements of fairness and equity, as well as broader concerns with transparency and trust. There has instead been a growing emphasis on appropriate use of material transfer agreements (MTA) to patch the gap between the CBD-NP framework on the one hand and the PIP framework on the other. Drawing on recent experiences with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, this paper sets out reasons why MTAs will not be an effective means of bridging the equity gap. Instead, it argues that global efforts to draw the CBD-NP and the PIP frameworks closer together must continue, not merely as a One-Health initiative but as an ongoing development commitment that prioritises the building of scientific, administrative, and technological capacities of developing countries.


Dr Calvin Ho is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Biomedical Ethics in the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore; Co-Head of the World Health Organization Collaborator Centre on Bioethics in Singapore; and a member of the Ethics Review Board of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). He is the Editor-in-Chief of Asian Bioethics Review, and a member of the editorial boards of the journals Life Sciences, Society and Policy, Medical Law International and Asia-Pacific Biotech News, among others. His research interests include biomedical law and ethics, health policy and systems, and global health.