[Ip-health] Waiving Intellectual Property Rules Key to Beating Covid-19

K.M. Gopakumar kumargopakm at gmail.com
Tue Nov 17 04:56:53 PST 2020


Waiving Intellectual Property Rules Key to Beating Covid-19
Aruna Kashyap  and  Margaret Wurth

With two companies, Pfizer and BioNTech, having announced promising early
<https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/09/health/covid-vaccine-pfizer.html> for a
Covid-19 vaccine they are developing, governments in the United States,
European Union, and the United Kingdom are racing to prebook
hundreds of millions of doses for their own use. But as long as
intellectual property rights limit the production of and access to Covid-19
vaccines that are found to be safe and effective, the world is headed down
a dangerous path, as such vaccines will remain out of reach for most low-
and middle-income countries.

Those pushing to share the benefits of science widely to protect people’s
lives and health have been met with opposition from defenders of
intellectual property rights, unwilling to acknowledge the dangerous
barrier they pose in such circumstances.

We’ve been here before. Nineteen years ago, the fight was for access to
affordable HIV treatment. It culminated in the 2001 Doha Declaration
<https://www.who.int/medicines/areas/policy/tripshealth.pdf?ua=1>, adopted
on November 14. At the time, 9,000 people a day
<https://www.hrw.org/legacy/press/2001/11/wto-aids1107.htm> were dying of
AIDS, largely in countries where antiretroviral drugs were unavailable or
unaffordable. The declaration, negotiated by countries who were members of
the World Trade Organization (WTO), clarified that under global
intellectual property rules governments could issue licenses for patents
during a public health crisis. It was a victory for people’s rights to life
and health.

Now, the fight is around access to treatments, testing, and vaccines for
Covid-19. Despite being one of the gravest public health crises in history,
the lessons learned from the HIV response are being ignored.

This week, governments will convene at the WTO to consider a proposal by
India and South Africa
to temporarily waive some intellectual property rules. The proposal goes
beyond the limited flexibility introduced by the Doha Declaration and is
supported <https://www.twn.my/title2/health.info/2020/hi201007.htm> by over
375 civil society organizations around the world. Rich countries like the
US, Switzerland, UK, Australia, and Japan – some
of whom have prebooked vast quantities of vaccine doses for their own
populations – oppose <https://www.twn.my/title2/wto.info/2020/ti201105.htm>
the proposal, arguing that the Doha Agreement is sufficient. They are wrong.

Doha only addresses one form of intellectual property: patents. What’s
needed now to ensure timely access to vaccines is the transfer of
proprietary technology to manufacture vaccines locally in low
<http://vaxmap.org/>- and middle-income countries.

Waiving rules
<https://www.wto.org/english/docs_e/legal_e/27-trips_04d_e.htm> governing
these forms of intellectual property is crucial to ensure that Covid-19
medical product, including safe and effective vaccines, can be made widely
available quickly at affordable prices.

United Nations experts have weighed
in – saying people’s lives and health should come before intellectual
property rights. The coming weeks will reveal whether governments
prioritize people’s lives.

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