[Ip-health] Prof Yousuf Vawda and Prof Brook K. Bake in Spotlight - President Ramaphosa should support the COVID-19 IP pool

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue May 26 05:26:12 PDT 2020


Op-ed: President Ramaphosa should support the COVID-19 IP pool

Comment & Analysis
25th May 2020 | Prof Yousuf Vawda and Prof Brook K. Baker

On 14 May, President Cyril Ramaphosa joined 139 other heads of state,
former heads of state, and other prominent public figures in a letter
announcing support for The People’s Vaccine..

The letter stated that “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 same applies for
all treatments, diagnostics, and other technologies for COVID-19… Now is
not the time to allow the interests of the wealthiest corporations and
governments to be placed before the universal need to save lives, or to
leave this massive and moral task to market forces. Access to vaccines and
treatments as global public goods are in the interests of all humanity. We
cannot afford for monopolies, crude competition and near-sighted
nationalism to stand in the way.”

A week earlier, President Ramaphosa spoke at the pledging event for the
Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which raised €7.4 billion to
support COVID-19 research and access initiatives. President Ramaphosa
should be credited with drumming up significant continental and global
support for these extraordinary statements of our communal rights to health
and to the benefits of scientific progress.

In a related landmark occurrence, on 15 May Director-General of the World
Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and President
Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica announced the impending 29 May launch
of a Solidarity Call to Action creating a global voluntary intellectual
property pool for COVID-19 related information and technologies. They were
supported by President Sebastian Pinera of Chile. President Quesada has
called on WHO Member States to declare their support for this initiative.
It represents a major boost to the COVID-19 response, by creating a
technology-sharing platform which removes access barriers to effective
vaccines, medicines, diagnostics, and devices.

The envisaged technology pool will be voluntary and based on social
solidarity. It will act as a repository of all scientific knowledge,
intellectual property, test data, trade secret and industry know-how, to be
shared on an equitable basis by the global community. It will promote
quicker, more efficient, and better open-science research and product
development. It will mobilise and expand additional manufacturing capacity,
and it will help ensure speedier and more equitable access to existing and
newly-discovered COVID-19 health products.

It will rely in part on the UNITAID-sponsored Medicines Patent Pool (MPP),
which negotiates with patent holders for open, non-exclusive licenses on
life-saving medicines for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Previously, the MPP prioritised treatments for HIV, Hepatitis C and
Tuberculosis, by facilitating licenses to generic manufacturers to increase
production and distribution of the medicines to enable affordable access.
South Africa is a major beneficiary of the MPP, and the massive rollout of
its ARV programme would not have otherwise been possible. Under its new
expanded mandate, the MPP would pursue equitable licensing of COVID-19
medical products to benefit the entire globe.

President Quesada is quoted as saying: “This is a call for Member States.
It’s a call also for academia, for the private sector and companies, for
research institutions, and for cooperation agencies, all around the world.
We want to see these innovations and technologies as global public goods to
protect humanity against this threat.”

What is the alternative to such a collaboration? It is to let
pharmaceutical companies such as Gilead run rampant, unchecked, while they
carve up the world’s markets for their maximum profit. Their approach of
selectively licensing certain manufacturers, and limiting their ability to
supply a large number of LMICs, including all of South America and some
Asian countries, is counter to the commitment of equitable access for all,
around which much of the world is coalescing.

Ironically or punitively, Costa Rica, the country which is leading the call
for the global technology pool, is one of the countries that is excluded
from benefiting from Gilead’s licenses on the promising anti-viral product
remdesivir. By picking and choosing who gets to receive the treatment and
who doesn’t – 48% of the global population – offends the principle of
solidarity and creates divisions among nations.

South Africa has been praised globally for its response to the pandemic,
and for many policies that are based on the philosophy of Ubuntu and social
solidarity. President Ramaphosa’s championship of The People’s Vaccine
displays further leadership in this regard.

We are counting on President Ramaphosa to promptly declare our country’s
and continent’s support for the Solidarity Call to Action on the COVID-19
technology pool, which will be officially launched on 29 May 2020. As we
move from rhetoric to reality, we will need implementable initiatives like
the technology pool to ensure that lofty words do not get subsumed by
commercial avarice and a super-nationalistic scramble for needlessly scarce
medical supplies.

At the same time, we remind President Ramaphosa that there is work to be
done at home amending South Africa’s Patents Act, and instituting emergency
measures to temporarily suspend patenting of COVID-19 medical products and
to provide for automatic or mandatory compulsory licenses on such products
should voluntary measures prove unsuccessful.

*Professors Vawda and Baker are Honorary Research Fellows, School of Law,
University of KwaZulu-Natal.


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

More information about the Ip-health mailing list