IP waiver for Covid products: Civil society groups back India, South Africa proposal; write to WTO

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on October 15, 2020

Close to 400 civil society organisations have written to the WTO to free medical products developed to contain the Covid-19 pandemic from the grip of intellectual property (IP).

Their call was in support of a proposal from India and South Africa to waive certain provisions of the TRIPS (Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ) Agreement so that vaccines, drugs and medical devices developed to tackle SARS-COV2 could be deployed without IP concerns coming in the way of access.

TRIPS Council meet

The letter to the WTO members comes even as its TRIPS Council, responsible for administering the agreement, meets over October 15-16.

Seven months into the pandemic, there is no meaningful global policy solution to ensure access, the letter signed by international health and humanitarian groups said.

While many low-income countries struggle to contain the virus, grappling with shortages of medical products and access to diagnostic testing, “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,” they pointed out.

With entire health systems already overwhelmed by Covid-19 and with governments facing a looming economic crisis, the health budgets of many countries simply cannot sustain highly priced Covid-19 medical products, the letter noted.

Global solution

“Adoption of a waiver at the WTO level will suspend implementation, application and enforcement of the relevant provisions of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to prevention, containment, and treatment of Covid-19. It enables an expedited, open and automatic global solution to allow uninterrupted collaboration in development, production and supply, and to collectively address the global challenge facing all countries.

“It’s time for governments to take collective responsibility and put people’s lives before corporate monopolies. Therefore, we strongly request you to unequivocally support the adoption of the proposed waiver at the upcoming TRIPS Council meeting,” the letter said.

Signatories to the letter included Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan and Lawyers Collective, among many others. In separate representations, other organisations like the Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative and UNITAID have also lent support to the proposal by India and South Africa.

‘Business as usual’

Calling out the pharmaceutical industry for what they called, a largely “business as usual” approach, the letter signed by the 300-plus civil society organisations alleged that their strategies entrenched “monopolistic intellectual property (IP) controls over Covid-19 health technologies that restrict scale-up of manufacturing, lock out diversified suppliers, and undermine competition that results in lower prices. A few companies, such as Astra Zeneca, have pledged not for profit prices during the pandemic, and yet by maintaining control over these technologies, can unilaterally declare the end of the pandemic and increase prices to maximise profits, even if it undermines international efforts to save lives.”

The Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) launched by the World Health Organisation (to voluntarily share knowledge, IP and data), has been rejected by the pharmaceutical industry, it said. “Instead, companies continue to sign secretive and restrictive licensing agreements. For example, Gilead Sciences’ secret licensing agreements for remdesivir, a medicine that was developed with substantial public funding, are restricted to a few manufacturers of its choosing, thereby preventing low-cost supply to nearly half of the world’s population,” it added.

Published on October 15, 2020

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