The Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) holding its meeting on October 15. Over 350 civil society organisations from across the world have appealed to WTO member countries to support a proposal made by India and South Africa before the TRIPS Council to waive off intellectual property provisions under TRIPS to speed up development of medicines, vaccines and diagnostics for prevention, containment and treatment of COVID19.
"When COVID-19 was declared to be a pandemic, there was overwhelming consensus that to curb the spread of COVID-19, there was an urgent need for international collaboration to speed up product development, scale up of manufacturing, expand the supply of effective medical technologies and ensure everyone, everywhere is protected. There were even calls from several Heads of State for COVID-19 medical products to be treated as global public goods. Seven months into the pandemic, there is no meaningful global policy solution to ensure access," the appeal points out.
The civil society groups complain that there is an inequality of access to critical technologies that are needed to address the pandemic. "Many countries, especially developing and least developed countries struggling to contain COVID-19, have experienced and are facing acute shortages of medical products, including access to diagnostic testing. Wealthy nations representing only 13 percent of the global population have locked up at least half the doses of the world's five leading potential vaccines. The pharmaceutical industry has mainly pursued "business as usual" approaches, entrenching monopolistic intellectual property (IP) controls over COVID-19 health technologies that restrict scale-up of manufacturing, lock out diversified suppliers, and undermine competition that results in lower prices," the groups alleged.
According to the groups, such "restrictive business strategies have directly translated into exorbitant pricing and profiteering and with entire health systems already overwhelmed by COVID-19 and with governments facing a looming economic crisis, the health budgets of many countries simply cannot sustain highly priced COVID-19 medical products."
Pointing out that while the TRIPS Agreement contains flexibilities that can promote access, they said many WTO members may face challenges in using them promptly and effectively. Stating that a global pandemic where every country is affected, needs a global solution, the civil society groups wanted WTO member countries to unequivocally support the adoption of the IP Waiver proposal. The proposal signatories include global organisations like Health Action International, Medicines Sans Frontiers, Public Services International and Third World Network.