[Ip-health] Stat: South Africa and India urge WTO to waive IP rights, widen access to Covid-19 drugs and vaccines

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sat Oct 3 22:00:46 PDT 2020


South Africa and India urge WTO to waive IP rights, widen access to
Covid-19 drugs and vaccines
By ED SILVERMAN @Pharmalot
OCTOBER 3, 2020

As Covid-19 continues to spread across the globe, the governments of India
and South Africa have asked the World Trade Organization to waive some
provisions in a trade agreement governing intellectual property rights so
that medical products can be more easily accessed, especially by low-income

The two countries argued that unless a waiver is issued, there are
“significant concerns” that diagnostics, medicines and vaccines will not be
“available promptly in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to
meet global demand,” according to a submission filed on Friday with the
WTO’s Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

The move comes as several wealthy nations — notably, the U.S., the U.K.,
Germany, and France — have signed deals with various drug makers for
hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines that are still being tested. But
poorer countries lack the means to place such orders and global health
officials fear that inequitable access will cause further immeasurable
suffering and the coronavirus will not be contained.

“It is crucial that other member governments of the WTO support this as we
need to ensure that vaccines, drugs, and other medical tools needed for
tackling COVID-19 can be scaled up by countries and their manufacturers
without facing protracted negotiations for licenses that in most cases
exclude many high burden countries,” said Leena Menghaney, who heads the
Doctors Without Borders access campaign in South Asia, in a statement.

Specifically, India and South Africa proposed waiving rules that govern
patents, industrial designs, copyrights, and protection of undisclosed
information, a reference to trade secrets. They proposed the waiver “should
continue until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the
majority of the world’s population has developed immunity to Covid-19,”
they wrote in their submission to the WTO.

“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 Indian and South African governments urged the WTO General
Council to adopt the proposal for an unspecified number of years.

If the WTO issues a waiver, countries around the world “could ignore the
WTO rules” and look to manufacture lower-cost products, explained Jamie
Love of Knowledge Ecology International, an advocacy group that focuses on
access to medicines and patent rights. “They would still have to deal with
their local laws, and lack of know-how. But it would be significant, if
adopted, for some products.” However, he also noted it may be difficult to
get the proposal adopted.

The submission occurs as the World Health Organization attempts different
mechanisms to ensure greater access to Covid-19 medical products in poor

The WHO is working with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the Coalition for
Emergency Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, to establish Covax, a vaccine
purchasing pool in which 172 countries exchange expertise. The plan is to
pool economic resources of its member countries to enable vaccine
developers to make high-risk investments and subsidize vaccine costs for
lower and middle-income countries. The U.S., however, has not joined.

In July, the Africa Union, which represents dozens of countries, urged its
members to work with the WHO to obtain a vaccine, but not let
pharmaceutical patents remain an obstacle. The AU called for “equitable and
timely distribution” of a Covid-19 vaccine by partnering with Covax, but
also suggested its members consider pursuing compulsory licensing, a right
that is noted in the same WTO deal.

The WHO, by the way, also launched a Technology Access Pool, which would
collect patent rights, regulatory test data, and other information that
could be shared for developing drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics to combat
Covid-19. However, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical
Manufacturers & Associations opposes the effort.

About the Author

Ed Silverman

Pharmalot Columnist, Senior Writer

Ed covers the pharmaceutical industry.

 ed.silverman at statnews.com

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

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