National

MSF urges EU, UK not to block negotiations

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on June 07, 2021

WTO meet to be held over the next two days on India-South Africa proposal

With the European Union coming up with an alternative plan to increase the supply of Covid-19 vaccines, humanitarian voices have denounced what they called“delaying tactics” by these nations to stall a landmark proposal on waiving intellectual property on Covid-19-linked products, including vaccines.

WTO negotiations

The EU, the UK, Switzerland and Norway should stop “blocking negotiations” under way at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on a proposal to facilitate equitable access to Covid-19 medicines, diagnostics and vaccines, said Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF- Doctors with Borders), ahead of the WTO meeting over the next two days. The proposal for a temporary IP waiver was mooted by India and South Africa and had received support from 100 countries, the most recent and high-profile supporter being the US, albeit limited to vaccines.

Late last week, though, the EU submitted a counter plan to the WTO to increase global Covid-19 vaccines supply through initiatives, including reduced export restrictions and increased collaborations with producers in developing countries. The MSF pointed outthat EU’s plans delay negotiations at a time when the pandemic has already taken more than 3.5 million lives across the globe. The EU proposal also pointed to existing provisions like “compulsory licensing” that allow countries to get local producers to make a product in the face of public health emergency on payment of royalty to the innovator.

But MSF said that while it was for Cls to ensure countries benefited from the “price-lowering effect of competition” among generic producers, this route was not efficient during pandemic conditions due to legal obstacles, pressure from pharmaceutical corporations and red tape.

MSF pointed out that an IP waiver would give countries a policy backbone to address IP barriers and increase collaboration in research and development, manufacturing, scale-up, and supply of Covid-19 medicines, vaccines and other health technologies.

“In the last few months, we all helplessly witnessed how healthcare workers in countries like India, Peru and Brazil struggled to provide care for people with Covid-19,” pointed out Dr Maria Guevara, MSF’s International Medical Secretary. “Their healthcare systems were on the verge of collapsing and it was very challenging to provide any supportive therapies to critically ill Covid-19 patients in hospitals, as the oxygen concentrators, ventilators and medicines remain in short supply. In addition to vaccines, the world urgently needs access to newer therapeutics and diagnostics to reduce the number of hospitalisations and deaths in this pandemic.”

Revised proposal

Governments co-sponsoring the waiver proposal recently submitted a revised proposal to the WTO, outlining the scope and duration towards progressing to formal text-based negotiations.

Support is also coming in from some members of the European Parliament. Last month, they adopted a resolution on ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030, where a clear call was made to support the TRIPS waiver proposal, the note said. The European Parliament is expected to vote on a specific resolution in support of the waiver proposal between June 7 and 10.

“With new and more transmissible variants of the virus emerging in many countries, we cannot afford to delay the adoption of this waiver and other strategies needed to expedite a global solution for production scale-up and diversification of supply, so that Covid-19 medical tools are accessible and affordable for everyone,” said Guevara.

Published on June 07, 2021

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