[Ip-health] FT: US to back away from WHO move on Covid-19 drug patents

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Mon May 18 19:05:54 PDT 2020


US to back away from WHO move on Covid-19 drug patents
African states support resolution calling for medicine makers to share
intellectual property

David Pilling in London and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington 2 HOURS AGO

The US is preparing to publicly disassociate itself from language in a
World Health Organization resolution that will back the right of poor
countries to ignore patents in order to gain access to a Covid-19 vaccine
or treatment.

Many governments, particularly in Africa, fear they will be squeezed out by
richer countries unless they can force companies that discover anti-Covid
therapies to share their intellectual property with manufacturers able to
produce them cheaply at scale.

African ambassadors in Geneva, where the WHO is based, said US diplomats
had sought to persuade them to support a dilution of language in the
resolution, but that they had refused.

According to several people familiar with the situation, the US was
planning to disassociate itself from part of the resolution, but talks are
continuing. Although the US will make its objections clear, the resolution
is expected to pass. The White House declined to comment on the

The resolution is being discussed at a virtual two-day meeting of the World
Health Assembly, the WHO’s governing body, which concludes on Tuesday.

“The US made some input trying to water down the references to Trips and
patenting,” said one west African ambassador to Geneva, referring to Trade
Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. “The US is certain they
will be the first to get the vaccine, but it might not be true.”

Illustrating the concerns about richer countries getting earlier access to
any vaccine, Ellen ‘t Hoen, a patents specialist at the University of
Amsterdam, said it took a decade for African countries to get affordable
Aids medicines, a period when millions of people died.

“What we have seen in the past is that high-income countries rush to the
front of the queue and leave the rest of the world to fend for themselves,”
she said.


The US and other nations with strong pharmaceutical sectors, including the
UK, Switzerland and Japan, wanted language explicitly referring to the Doha
Declaration removed from the resolution, according to an early draft seen
by the Financial Times.

They wanted instead to emphasise the role of intellectual property in
promoting innovation and to encourage equitable access to any Covid vaccine
or treatment through voluntary mechanisms, including donations and

The debate over intellectual property is part of a broader tussle between
China and the US over who develops a vaccine first and how it will be

Xi Jinping, Chinese president, on Monday appeared to back the position of
developing countries, when he said any vaccine “will be treated as a public

In an address to the World Health Assembly — itself controversial because
of US accusations that Beijing covered up the initial Covid outbreak in the
Chinese city of Wuhan — Mr Xi said China would donate $2bn over two years
to respond to the pandemic, especially in developing countries.

The White House described the Chinese offer as a “token to distract from
calls from a growing number of nations demanding accountability for the
Chinese government’s failure to meet its obligations . . . to tell the
truth and warn the world of what was coming”.

John Ullyot, the White House National Security Council spokesperson, added
that “as the source of the outbreak, China has a special responsibility to
pay more and to give more” to the global health body.


Follow David Pilling and Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @davidpilling and

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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