[Ip-health] WHO lends support to IP-waiver proposal from South Africa, India

K.M. Gopakumar kumargopakm at gmail.com
Sun Oct 18 12:09:43 PDT 2020

WHO lends support to IP-waiver proposal from South Africa, India

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has lent its support to a proposal from
South Africa and India to the World Trade Organization (WTO) seeking a
waiver on certain intellectual property (IP) provisions that could come in
the way of access to medicines, vaccines and devices developed to tackle
the novel coronavirus.

The support comes even as the recently-concluded TRIPS Council meeting
failed to reach a consensus on the issue, setting it up for informal
consultations for resolution by the year-end. The TRIPS Council is
responsible for implementing the TRIPS (Trade-related Aspects of
Intellectual Property Rights) agreement.

Expressing support on a micro-blogging site, WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus said, the WHO welcomed South Africa’s and India’s recent
proposal to the WTO “to ease international & intellectual property
agreements on #COVID19 vaccines, treatments & tests in order to make the
tools available to all who need them at an affordable cost.”

Further, he added, “Ending the pandemic starts with collaboration. @WHO
launched the #COVID19 Technology Access Pool in May, inviting countries to
share data, knowledge and intellectual property on vital, life-saving
health products in the fight against the coronavirus.”

At the TRIPS Council meeting, India explained that the IP-waiver was
important “for those who have insufficient or no manufacturing capacities
in the health products required to combat the Covid crisis. In the past few
months, India has supplied medical products and equipments needed in
fighting the pandemic to more than 150 countries and resisted the attempts
to corner the supplies by a few countries.”
Global solution

Stressing the need for a global solution to the pandemic, India said,
“there can be no denying the fact” that the development of and equitable
access to the tools required to fight Covid-19 were “limited by IP
barriers.” Pointing to lawsuits filed by private companies in different
parts of the world for IP infringement on Covid-19 products, India added,
IPR did come in the way of “scaling up production of test kit reagents,
ventilator valves, N95 respirators, therapeutics, fluorescent proteins and
other technologies used in development of vaccines etc.”

Voluntary licences were not the solution, India pointed out, as “not a
single IP holder has shown willingness to commit to the Covid-19 Technology
Access Pool (C-TAP) and the ACT-Accelerator voluntary initiatives launched
under the aegis of WHO. In fact, the representative from WHO in this
Council yesterday admitted in response to a question that no pharmaceutical
company has committed to sharing its IP and technologies in the C-TAP pool
since its launch more than five months ago.”

The IP waiver was met with support from least developed countries including
Bangladesh, Pakistan, Argentina and Indonesia; resistance from the European
Union, US, Switzerland, UK and Brazil, and a request for clarification from
China, Thailand, Nigeria, Costa Rica etc

Countries resisting the waiver pointed out that the TRIPS Agreement had
flexibilities to facilitate access. In it’s response, South Africa said,
the waiver was a temporary suspension and not a substantive change to
treaty obligations. The scope of the waiver proposal was clear and
time-bound, it added.

In the run-up to the WTO meeting, several civil society voices lending
support to the IP-waiver pointed out “wealthy nations representing only 13
per cent of the global population have locked up at least half the doses of
the world’s five leading potential vaccines.”

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