The TRIPS Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Thursday agreed to hold a series of meetings in June and July to take stock of the proposal seeking patent waivers for Covid-19 vaccines as well as other health products and technologies.
Countries such as India and South Africa want the protection of their patents and other intellectual property to be lifted to boost vaccine production.
On June 30, WTO members will discuss the scope, coverage of TRIPS provisions and coverage of products of the proposed waiver by South Africa and India.
India and South Africa submitted the first proposal suggesting a waiver of certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement for all WTO members in October 2020. The WTO has 164 members.
A revised proposal was submitted by 62 co- sponsors including India, South Africa and Indonesia in May 2021.
Vaccines as a public good
The World Health Organisation is urging richer countries to get Covid vaccines to low-income and lower middle -income countries.
According to Fatima Hassan, founder of the Johannesburg-based Health Justice Initiative, medicine should not be treated as a commodity that needs patent protection.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Hassan said that medical technologies ‘should be seen as a public good.’ She said: ‘if vaccines are treated as a public good vaccines will become affordable and accessible’.
The disparity between the number of vaccinated in rich versus poor countries have been referred to as ‘vaccine apartheid’. Less than 1% of the population of Africa has been vaccinated so far.
Hassan says: ‘We needs IP relaxation as it appears that Covid pandemic will be with us for a while. The figure of 1% is the very reason why we cannot rely on the market.’
Mustaqeem da Gama, Counsellor to South Africa’s Permanent Mission in Geneva and trade law expert, said to Al Jazeera: ‘The longer countries delay a waiver decision the longer we will have the prevalence of mutations.’
Da Gama explains that the patent waiver goes beyond patents for vaccines: ‘It includes diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines as well as products such as PPEs, masks and gloves which are all relevant to the prevention and treatment of Covid 19.’
He adds: ‘Countries that have concerns regarding the waiver will argue for a narrower outcome limited to patents only.’
In early May the Biden administration indicated that it will support the patent waiver. Pharmaceutical companies have however pushed the US to oppose the waiver. Pharmaceutical companies have argued that the waiver will lead to ‘fewer new cures and treatments’.
Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS came into effect in 1995. It is a multilateral agreement on intellectual property rights.
- Most Viewed
- Most Popular