FILE: An engineer works at the Quality Control Laboratory on an experimental vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
GENEVA - World leaders past and present insisted on Thursday that any eventual COVID-19 vaccines and treatments should be made available to everyone, free of charge.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan were among more than 140 signatories of a letter saying any vaccine should not be patented while the science should be shared between nations.
African Union Chairperson Ramaphosa said: "As the countries of Africa, we are resolute that the COVID-19 vaccine must be patent-free, rapidly made and distributed, and free for all.
"Nobody should be pushed to the back of the vaccine queue because of where they live or what they earn."
The World Health Assembly (WHA), the policy-setting body of the UN's World Health Organization, holds its annual general meeting next week.
The signatories called on the WHA to rally behind the cause.
"Governments and international partners must unite around a global guarantee which ensures that, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge," the letter said.
"The same applies for all treatments, diagnostics, and other technologies for COVID-19."
The letter comes amid fury in France after pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said it would reserve first shipments of any COVID-19 vaccine for the United States.
The French multinational's chief executive Paul Hudson said the United States would get first dibs because its government was helping to fund the vaccine research.
His comments drew outrage from officials and health experts.
The letter ahead of the WHA said it was not the time to leave the task of resolving the pandemic to market forces or let the interests of wealthy companies and governments come before the need to save lives.