Governments must support the proposal for an intellectual property (IP) waiver on medical tools developed to tackle Covid-19, said the international humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MS-Doctors Without Borders).
The waiver will provide governments with an automatic policy option, rather than rely on voluntary measures from pharmaceutical companies, it added.
Their call for improved access to Covid-19 medical products comes ahead of a TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) council meeting on Wednesday and Thursday, where the proposal from South Africa and India is scheduled for discussion.
The countries had proposed an IP waiver on Covid-19 linked products during the pandemic period, to improve access to them, especially in economically-weak countries.
Backing and support
The proposal, made in October 2020, now has the backing of 58 sponsoring governments, with around 100 countries supporting the proposal overall.
But the pushback has come from certain developed countries that say access-related features are already built into the international trade framework.
Yuanqiong Hu, Senior Legal and Policy Advisor for MSF Access Campaign, told Business Line that governments that had invested a lot of money to accelerate research and development should have insisted with clear requests and conditions so that companies had clear accountability to guarantee access. “However, so far this is not a common practice that had been used by government fundings,” she said, adding that governments need to learn from this pandemic for their future funding policies.
Call to block proposal
Meanwhile, MSF urged the small number of governments that continue to block the IP waiver proposal “to immediately reverse their stonewalling and allow formal negotiations at the WTO (World Trade Organisation) to start”.
The countries blocking or delaying the proposal, including the Australia, Brazil, Canada, the EU, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the UK and the US, have also secured the majority of available vaccines, much more than needed to vaccinate their entire populations, they pointed out.
“Even after one year of this pandemic and 2.5 million deaths, we still see certain governments denying that removing monopolies on Covid-19 medical tools will help increase people’s access to needed treatments, vaccines and tests going forward,” said Christos Christou, MSF’s International President.
As virus variants emerge, MSF said it was critical to ensure that existing and upcoming medical tools were accessible in sufficient quantities and in a timely way, especially for frontline health workers in developing countries, including MSF teams. “If increasing the number of global suppliers of medical tools is not prioritized, people in these countries will remain in a disproportionately disadvantageous position for access,” MSF said.
“Enabled by IP monopolies, corporations continue to pursue secretive and limited commercial deals that exclude many low-and middle-income countries even in the midst of the pandemic,”the organisation said. The waiver proposal could help remove legal uncertainties and risks for potential producers and governments to quickly start preparing to scale up production and supply of treatments, vaccines, and other essential medical tools.
More access, supplies
“In Brazil, where healthcare workers have struggled to provide care during multiple waves of the pandemic so far, MSF witnessed how emerging waves saturated the existing health system resulting in rationing of medical equipment and interventions,”it pointed out, underlining the need for increased access and supplies.