A lone frontline nurse from Liberia has travelled to the World Economic Forum in Davos, to urge Governments to support a patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines and medical products, a proposal initially made by India and South Africa.

George Poe Williams has launched an unusual protest in the form of a “round of applause” for pharma executives, a satirical reversal of the global applause for frontline workers. Big pharma is not in support of a patent waiver and has instead pushed for cross-country collaborations.

“Action (the patent waiver) should have been taken a long time ago,” Williams told BusinessLine, speaking from Davos, referring to the initial proposal made in October 2020. “It is making our work difficult. Health workers are over-worked and there is a shortage of supplies. Health workers have died and this should never have been the case,” said Williams, who is the Secretary-General of the National Health Workers’ Union of Liberia. He launched his “round of applause” protest in front of the tightly secured perimeter of the Forum.

Referring to the text of the waiver proposal that is being discussed even as he protests, Williams called for the original text of the proposal to be brought back. He said the present version is not getting support from countries due to its limited scope and restrictive criteria. The proposal could finally be passed at the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference in mid-June, if Germany, the European Commission, the UK and Switzerland were to change their position, said a note from Public Services International, a global trade union federation.

Williams’ home-country is one of over a hundred countries backing an Intellectual Property (IP) waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO), along with support from international agencies, including the World Health Organisation, Médecins Sans Frontière and PSI. A handful of Governments are still blocking the waiver from going through, William said.

Responding to the pharmaceutical industry argument that there was enough supply of Covid-19 vaccines in the world, Willaim said, “I am a nurse and I go by what happened at the bed-side. Only a third of us are vaccinated,” he said.

“We don’t want charity, we want solidarity,” he said, adding that a patent waiver would have allowed countries with the potential to make the vaccine to do so, and at a lower cost. Pharmaceutical companies have made over $34 billion in profits during the pandemic, fuelled by monopoly ownership of vaccines, PSI alleged.

William called on people who lost loved ones during the pandemic to join the call for a patent waiver, as he now proceeds to the ongoing World Health Assembly in Geneva to carry out his protest, followed by the WTO meeting coming up in weeks.