The World Health Organization has called for the Canadian government’s support on the proposal at that World Trade Organisation, seeking a temporary waiver on intellectual property (IP) on Covid-linked products.

In fact, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also called on countries to support the IP waiver on not just Covid vaccines, but other products as well. The proposal at the WTO was made by India and South Africa, but has since got much support from over 100 countries. Speaking at a recent conclave on the issue, the WHO chief said: “We seek the support of the Canadian government for the TRIPS waiver for Covid products at the WTO Ministerial Conference that begins this week.”

He then called on the support of all countries to speed up negotiations “that result in a text that countries can implement easily in their national legislation”.

Further, he said the WHO “strongly recommends” that the waiver apply not only to vaccines, but also to diagnostics, therapeutics and other tools to prevent, diagnose and treat Covid.

Addressing the South African Development Community, the WHO chief urged members to explore avenues to rapidly scale up production, including through the use of TRIPS flexibilities, technology pools, voluntary licenses, and by investing in local production.

He reiterated this call against the backdrop of the grave inequities in access to Covid vaccines.

“There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines. Over 7.3 billion vaccines have been administered globally, but nearly 70 per cent of those have gone to just 10 countries. Almost 40 per cent of the world’s population is now fully vaccinated, but in Africa it’s only 6 per cent.”

Tech transfer

Further, he pointed out that the same inequities in access were surfacing in the context of tests and treatments. In the short term, it’s essential to remove all barriers to scaling up production, including “through technology transfer, freeing up supply chains, and a waiver of intellectual property rights under the TRIPS agreement for the duration of the pandemic”, he said.

Last year, C-TAP (the Covid Technology Access Pool) was established to facilitate the voluntary, transparent and non-exclusive licensing of patents, transfer of know-how and data. The first licensing and technology transfer agreement for C-TAP has been announced with the Spanish National Research Institute, for a worldwide, transparent and non-exclusive voluntary license for the production of a Covid antibody test, he said.