Health groups call to keep the spirit of Doha Declaration

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on November 19, 2020

Global public health voices have urged members of the World Trade Organisation to keep the spirit of Doha Declaration and support a game-changing proposal from South Africa and India.

The proposal called for a waiver of certain intellectual property provisions during the pandemic on medical products developed to tackle Covid-19. The call from humanitarian groups comes as the proposal is scheduled to come up for discussion tomorrow, according to people close to the development.

“The IP waiver would allow all countries to choose to neither grant nor enforce patents and other IP-related to Covid-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other technologies for the duration of the pandemic, until global herd immunity is achieved,” said a note from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF- Doctors without Borders), calling on governments to support the landmark request.

The move is a throw-back to 20 years ago and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, when affordable generic HIV drugs, made in countries where patents did not block production, began saving millions of lives, MSF said. In 2001, at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Doha Declaration on TRIPS (Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) and Public Health had affirmed governments’ rights to take all necessary measures to eliminate patents and other IP barriers, in the interest of public health, they pointed out.

At the last WTO meeting of the TRIPS Council in mid-October, Kenya and Eswatini joined India and South Africa in officially co-sponsoring the waiver. A total of 99 countries are in support, the note said. Opposing the waiver are countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Norway, Switzerland and the European Union.

Doha Declaration

On the 19th anniversary of the Doha Declaration just days ago, the People’s Health Movement said that the declaration had “recognised the gravity of public health issues in developing and least-developed countries and reiterated the rights of WTO member states to make use of the flexibilities in the TRIPS Agreement to promote access to medicines for all”.

It further added: “There is now an urgent need to address the availability and accessibility of medical products (including personal protective equipment, vaccines, medicines and diagnostics) for an effective response to the pandemic.”

Pointing out that many countries financed big pharma companies for the innovation of medical products for Covid-19 responses, the note said: “ Medical products developed through public funding should be treated as global public goods and the companies undertaking research using public money should transfer the technology in a transparent manner to scale up production to ensure availability and accessibility across the globe.” Multiple forms of IP protection especially copyrights, trade secrets, industrial design, and patents can legally prevent the dissemination of technology and scaling-up of local production, it added.

Several civil society organisations had, in the run-up to the WTO meet, called for pharma companies to give up their “business-as-usual” approach. The SA-India proposal even got the support of the World Health Organisation, as its chief welcomed the move to “ease international and intellectual property agreements on Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and tests in order to make the tools available to all who need them at an affordable cost.”

Published on November 19, 2020

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