The International Medical Charity Doctor Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) has urged rich countries to stop stopping plans to abandon patents that could promote global production of coronavirus vaccines.
Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet mostly for informal negotiations on Thursday to discuss a proposal to give up intellectual property rights for the production of the COVID-19 vaccine and other coronavirus-related medical tools during a pandemic.
Donors for the waiver argued that the suspension would allow more factories worldwide to produce drilling machines without violating international rules under the WTO agreement on relevant aspects. to trade in intellectual property rights (TRIPS).
But the proposal, originally submitted in October by India and South Africa, has met with outcry from some high-income members, many of which are home to producers. major drug exports – such as the United States and members of the European Union.
In a statement on Wednesday, Dr. Maria Guevara, MSF’s international medical secretary, urges competitors to drop their opposition to the plan.
“During this COVID-19 pandemic, we are once again faced with scarcity issues that can be solved through diversifying production and supply capacities, while ensuring temporary waiver of related intellectual property rights.
“We urge all countries to oppose this, including the US and the EU, to stand on the right side of history and join hands with supporters. The end is to save lives, not protect the systems ”.
Opponents want to maintain the trade secret of vaccines, arguing that existing WTO regulations are flexible enough to support the global supply of vaccines. They also argue that suspending IP rights jeopardizes innovation by discouraging future investments.
With a new round of meetings approaching, including the official TRIPS Council meeting scheduled for April 30 and the TRIPS General Assembly to take place in June, supporters give up hope that WTO members will move from theoretical theory to text-based negotiations.
“If we can get there at our next General Assembly, it’s better not even if we’re six months late,” said co-founder Tahir Amin and co-CEO of I-MAK. , a for-profit non-organization that advocates for equitable access to medicines. “It will show that we’ve turned a corner,” he added.
However, Amin argued, competitors would likely continue to play the “wait game” and seek to reduce the increased pressure by prompting more pharmaceutical companies to reach additional bilateral agreements.
“The pressure is on the rise, but the protesting countries won’t want to participate in the text-based discussion – they don’t want to open that door, not even the window,” Amin said.
Questions arise around the position of the US, a heavyweight adversary whose actions will influence the outcome of the negotiations. Last week, US Trade Representative Kathrine Tai acknowledges the need for “breakthroughs” at the WTO. Some observers note that these comments are in stark contrast to the language of the previous administration about intellectual property rights.
Mr. Tai also emphasized that “unnecessary deaths and suffering” should not be repeated in the HIV / AIDS pandemic due to “policies and actions that limit access to medicines”.
In the 1990s, when the HIV / AIDS crisis reached its peak, millions of people in developing countries died without access to the essential drugs available on the market but were very expensive due to the patent regulations.
“Politically, it’s a very positive sign, although it’s not yet clear how this will play out in the approach,” said Yuanqiong Hu, legal advisor to Campaign Access for MSF reality.
One year after the pandemic, one in four people in rich countries was vaccinated, compared with One in every 500 people is in low-income countries, according to WHO estimates.
In early April, India decided to suspend its AstraZeneca vaccine exports from the Institute of Serum – the world’s largest producer of vaccines – to meet domestic demand amid the country’s 1.4 billion population. The country has a sharp increase in infections.
AstraZeneca jab, relatively inexpensive and easy to store, is key to the vaccination efforts of developing countries and is one of the main suppliers of COVAX – a UN-backed global mechanism to secure vaccines. Apply for free to the poorest countries.
The decision is expected to interrupt more than 90 million doses of COVAX, an outcome that Africa’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong has defined as “catastrophic”.
Most African countries have relied on doses provided by the global platform, but less than 1% of this continent’s population has received a single dose of the vaccine, according to Our World in Data. By contrast, the UK spends at least once for nearly half of its population, compared with nearly 40% of its population in the US and more than 19% in the EU.
Donors for the waiver have argued that the disruption of vaccine supply due to India’s decision to suspend exports highlights the limits of the current approach to vaccine production, primarily. focus on single voluntary agreements controlled by corporate rights holders who maintain full control over technology usage, production volumes and prices.
“The agreement between AstraZeneca and SII shows a flux in the current vaccine approach being approached as it is an exclusive agreement that billions of people depend on,” said Sangeeta Shashikant, legal advisor to the Network. third world grid, an international organization said advocacy organization.
Meanwhile, pressure from civil society is also increasing. Last week, more than 170 heads of state and governments, as well as Nobel Prize winners, have called on US President Joseph Biden to support the TRIPS waiver proposal.
The letter from civil society organizations, including Amnesty and MSF, stressed that the current model cannot guarantee sustainability.