[Ip-health] AP: India, South Africa ask WTO to ease IP rules for COVID-19

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sat Oct 3 09:58:33 PDT 2020


India, South Africa ask WTO to ease IP rules for COVID-19


NEW DELHI (AP) — South Africa and India have asked the World Trade
Organization to waive some provisions in the international agreements that
regulate intellectual property rights, to speed up efforts to prevent,
treat and contain the COVID-19 pandemic and make sure developing countries
are not left behind.

The countries argue, in a joint submission to the Council for Trade-Related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights dated Friday, that without a rapid
waiver of some existing safeguards for intellectual property rights, some
countries — particularly developing ones that have been “disproportionately
impacted” — would find it hard to access vaccines or medicines quickly.

Activists have warned that a COVID-19 vaccine could be hoarded by rich
countries in a race to inoculate their populations first. Some countries
including Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. have ordered hundreds of
millions of doses of potential vaccines even before clinical trials have
shown they are effective.

Poorer countries, whose economies have been shattered by the pandemic, are
not in a position to place such bets. With the world surpassing 1 million
confirmed COVID-19 deaths, urgency has grown.

Leena Menghaney, who heads the access campaign in South Asia for
international aid group Doctors Without Borders, called it “crucial that
other member governments of the WTO support this, as we need to ensure that
vaccines, drugs and other medical tools needed for COVID-19 can be scaled
up by countries and their manufacturers without facing protracted
negotiations for licenses.”

South Africa and India are seeking waivers to rules that relate to
copyright, industrial designs, patents and the protection of undisclosed
information or trade secrets, and they propose that the waiver be in place
“until widespread vaccination is in place globally” and most of the world
has developed immunity to the coronavirus.

The countries say there are “significant concerns” about whether new
treatments and vaccines being developed for COVID-19 would be made
available promptly and affordably to meet the global demand.

The letter says the existing flexibilities written into the rules might not
be enough, and could result in legal difficulties for developing nations.
Countries with a limited capacity to manufacture pharmaceuticals are
particularly vulnerable, and this could make the process of importing and
exporting medicines “cumbersome and lengthy,” it says.

“Internationally, there is an urgent call for global solidarity, and the
unhindered global sharing of technology and know-how in order that rapid
responses for the handling of COVID-19 can be put in place on a real time
basis,” the letter says. It asks that the council urgently approach the
WTO’s high-level decision-making body, the General Council.

India’s government and a spokeswoman for South Africa’s health ministry did
not immediately respond to requests for comment. South Africa has been
outspoken in the past about access to treatments, notably affordable drugs
for HIV.

Africa’s 54 countries have teamed up during the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue
equitable access to any effective vaccine. An African Union communique in
June said governments around the world should “remove all obstacles” to any
vaccine’s swift and equitable distribution, including by making all
intellectual property and technologies immediately available.

The communique specifically mentioned the Doha Declaration on public health
by WTO members in 2001, which refers to the right to grant compulsory
licenses — where a government can license the use of a patented invention
without the consent of the patent-holder.

The African communique, read out after a continental conference on the
quest for COVID-19 vaccines, states an urgent need for countries to “make
full use of legal measures ... to ensure monopolies do not stand in the way
of access.” It points out the “barriers” intellectual property rules have
posed in the past to affordable vaccines in developing countries.

Drug companies have said they need to protect their intellectual property
to fund their expensive research. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization
has supported a COVID-19 technology access pool where IP and data can be
shared voluntarily.


Anna reported from Johannesburg.

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

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