Wealthy countries must drop defence of monopolies on COVID medical tools

Wealthy countries must drop defence of monopolies on COVID medical tools

As countries reconvene tomorrow for another round of discussions on the “TRIPS Waiver” proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO), Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls on the UK and other wealthy countries to stop blocking the initiative.

The TRIPS Waiver would waive patents and other intellectual property (IP) on urgently needed COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, tests, and other health tools, for the duration of the pandemic. It could help remove legal barriers and uncertainties for manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries, allowing them to scale up production and supply of lifesaving medical tools.

Nearly a year after the waiver was first proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020, it has been supported by over 100 nations. However, the UK and a small group of other opposing WTO members, including the EU, Norway, and Switzerland, continue to stall constructive discussions on the proposal.

“Despite the groundbreaking medical innovations delivered in the past year, and tall commitments by some powerful nations promising global solidarity and equity, access to these innovative COVID-19 medical tools remains scant in too many low- and middle-income countries,” said Candice Sehoma, South Africa Advocacy Officer, MSF Access Campaign.

“People in these countries, facing life or death in this pandemic, can no longer rely merely on charitable or voluntary measures dictated by only a small number of high-income countries and the pharmaceutical industry they host. We demand the countries opposing the TRIPS Waiver to stop blocking the will of the majority of the world to obtain this additional legal tool in the pandemic to achieve self-reliance in producing COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests.”

Pharmaceutical companies have refused to relinquish control over intellectual property throughout the pandemic, while they have received huge amounts of public funding. For example, in the UK, the government put over £65 million of public money into research, development and manufacture of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine – 97% of the jab’s overall funding. These publicly funded products should not be the private property of pharmaceutical companies to control.

“The TRIPS waiver is a critical step in increasing and diversifying supply of much-needed COVID-19 medical tools,” said Victorine de Milliano, UK Policy Advisor for the MSF Access Campaign.

“While the UK has fully vaccinated nearly 80% of its population, compared to less than 2% in low-income countries, it continues to block the TRIPS waiver. The UK government insists that the waiver ‘would need unanimous support, which could take a long time’. This ignores the fact that the UK’s position is the very reason the proposal continues to be stalled. We strongly urge the government to change course and back the waiver.”

Editor’s note:

On achieving global COVID-19 vaccine access

In addition to supporting the TRIPS Waiver proposal, MSF calls on governments to use all legal and policy tools to facilitate uninterrupted production and diversity in supply of COVID-19 medical tools, including the full use of existing TRIPS flexibilities for public health safeguarding. MSF also urges all governments with sufficient COVID-19 vaccine doses to immediately redistribute excess doses to the COVAX Facility. MSF urges the US and German governments to pressure Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to share mRNA vaccine technology and know-how with manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries, and for all governments to support the WHO COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub with financial and political support.

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