Take charge, India

KM Gopakumar | | Updated on: Jan 09, 2022
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Putting equitable healthcare on the agenda of upcoming WTO and WHO talks

Three negotiations coming up at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are crucial for developing countries like India.

Topping the list is the TRIPS waiver, which seeks a temporary suspension of IP (intellectual property) rights under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. This waiver is critical to address shortages of health products, including diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics, because it could enable WTO members to prevent pharmaceutical giants from using IP to block generic production.

Further, such waivers help address a range of IP barriers, especially access to trade secrets, which is required to produce vaccines and biotherapeutics.

The second important negotiation is the amendment to the International Health Regulation (IHR), which governs the conduct of WHO members on public health emergencies of international concern (PHEIC), including pandemics. Developed countries often use IHR to obtain information on the outbreak of diseases without fulfilling their obligation to assist the countries experiencing the disease outbreak, especially in facilitating affordable access to health products.

Moreover, IHR does not have a financial mechanism to help developing countries strengthen their health system, which is of vital need during emergency. The US has proposed targeted amendments to IHR which will effectively enhance the obligation on state parties and WHO to rapidly share information, including the genetic sequencing of pathogens, without undertaking any obligation to share the benefits.

The third crucial negotiation is the proposed new instrument to address future pandemics, which is pushed primarily by the European Union. This new instrument is believed to be a tactical move to shift attention away from the reform of IHR and inequitable access to health products and finance during health emergencies.

Ideally, these issues should have been addressed in IHR, a legally binding instrument, to avoid fragmentation of law and resources.

India needs to pay attention to these negotiations and address inequities in TRIPS and IHR to ensure its citizens’ health is not compromised.

The writer is an IP expert with Third World Network. Views are personal

Published on January 09, 2022

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