02 Feb 21 19 Feb 21

MSF to wealthy countries: Don’t ruin the potential of a landmark waiver on monopolies

Geneva, 3 February 2021—Ahead of the next round of talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to discuss a proposal by South Africa and India to waive monopolies on COVID-19 medical tools during the pandemic, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called on the wealthy countries opposing the proposal not to block it and ruin its lifesaving potential for billions of people in the rest of the world.

India and South Africa made a formal request to the World Trade Organization (WTO) for a waiver to allow countries to suspend all patents on any medicines, medical tools and devices during the pandemic.

No more time to waste

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the globe, there is no more time to waste and governments need to take leadership to make this waiver a reality.

Picketers stood outside embassies and handed over letters calling on these countries to support the TRIPS Waiver.

“We’re at a point where we are seeing the stark realities between the haves and have-nots in this pandemic, and governments shouldn’t waste another minute to find solutions to stop this inequity,” said Dr Sidney Wong, Executive Co-Director of MSF’s Access Campaign.

“We have a simple message to the governments opposing this landmark monopoly waiver proposal: please don’t block it. We do not have a level playing field, so even if you don’t need it or you don’t agree; don’t stop other countries from benefiting from this waiver to protect their own people."

This pandemic will not be over until it is over for everyone

DR SIDNEY WONG, EXECUTIVE CO-DIRECTOR OF MSF’S ACCESS CAMPAIGN

Aim of proposal 

The intellectual property (IP) waiver proposal aims to allow countries to choose not to enforce, apply or implement patents and other exclusivities that could impede the production and supply of COVID-19 medical tools, until global herd immunity is reached.

Members of various civil societies gathered outside the embassies of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and other countries which opposed a temporary patent waiver.

If adopted, the waiver would send a crucial signal to potential manufacturers that they can start producing needed COVID-19 medical tools without fear of being blocked by patents or other monopolies.

The proposal is now officially co-sponsored by Eswatini, Kenya, Mozambique, Pakistan, Mongolia, Venezuela, Bolivia and Egypt. However, a small group of WTO members including the EU, UK, US, Japan, Switzerland and Australia continue to oppose it.

Picketers stood outside embassies calling on these countries to support the TRIPS Waiver to allow for more drug manufacturers to have access to vaccine designs.

“With the emergence of new strains of COVID-19, many countries in Africa are now struggling with a fast-spreading wave of the disease and an overwhelmed health care system,” said Dr Khosi Mavuso, Medical Representative for MSF in South Africa.

“We are worried that without universal, affordable and equitable access to medical tools, the pandemic will last longer, impacting not just people with COVID-19, but also the capacity of health systems to provide immunisation, care and treatment for other diseases, causing more deaths and suffering".

It is plainly clear that this monopoly waiver seeks to prioritise human lives over private profits, so we call on countries to act fast and make it a reality

DR KHOSI MAVUSO, MEDICAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR MSF IN SOUTH AFRICA

Global solidarity 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the need to ensure global open access and the right to produce and supply COVID-19 health technologies has been widely acknowledged.

Yet despite efforts and statements made by several heads of state for COVID-19 medical products to be treated as ‘global public goods,’ little has been achieved in this regard to date.

Picketers handed over letters calling on these countries to support the TRIPS Waiver to allow for more drug manufacturers to have access to vaccine designs.

Pharmaceutical corporations continue to operate with impunity, for example by signing secretive bilateral commercial licensing and purchase agreements that undermine access for vulnerable and neglected populations in many developing countries.

Tactical delays to stall the process

Even though the waiver proposal offers an opportunity to all countries to collectively take a stand over corporate monopolies on COVID19 medical production and supply, the opposing countries continue to use delay tactics to stall the process.

Australian embassy staff member talks to civil society protestors as they hand over a memorandum to the embassy.

In the past three months of discussions at the WTO, it is reported that countries sponsoring the waiver proposal have repeatedly demonstrated challenges faced due to IP barriers in the pandemic and their inability to rely neither on the existing legal options, nor companies’ voluntary actions to ensure global access to COVID-19 medical tools.

Yet, opposing countries continue to delay the possibility of reaching common ground and moving the process forward.

The clock is ticking and so many lives are at stake.

LEENA MENGHANEY, SOUTH ASIA HEAD OF MSF’S ACCESS CAMPAIGN

“The sole interest of pharmaceutical corporations in the patent system has always been to use it as a business strategy to block competition, maintain monopoly status and keep prices high,” said Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head of MSF’s Access Campaign.

Members of various civil societies gathered outside the embassies of the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Brazil, and other countries which opposed a temporary patent waiver on COVID-19 vaccines.

“In this raging pandemic, countries who have traditionally backed pharmaceutical corporations must quit protecting their business interests. We call on countries opposing this critical waiver to stop using delay tactics and instead demonstrate global solidarity by not blocking this waiver".

The success of the patent waiver request could be a real game-changer to put people's lives over profit and to provide governments with the necessary legal basis to ensure access for their population during the pandemic.

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