COVID-19 Crisis and WTO: Why India and South Africa’s Proposal on Intellectual Property is Important

by Ellen ‘t Hoen, Director, Medicines Law & Policy

Read the complete blog published in The Wire here

On October 2, India and South Africa sent a proposal to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), asking that it allow countries to suspend the protection of certain kinds of intellectual property (IP) related to the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19. 
The two countries propose this waiver to last until widespread COVID-19 vaccination is in place globally, and when the world’s population has developed immunity to the virus. 

The concern is that the development of and equitable access to the tools – such as vaccines and treatments – needed to fight the pandemic could be limited by patents and other IP barriers. 
The WTO body that makes decisions on intellectual property, the TRIPS Council, will meet October 15-16 to discuss this issue.

COVID-19 vaccines do not exist yet. There are currently 44 vaccines in human clinical trials. Eleven of those are in phase 3, the final phase before a request for approval for use on the general population, and five are approved for early or limited use. The majority of vaccine development is taking place in high-income nations that are home to multinational pharmaceutical corporations. These corporations will be responsible for the production and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines. 

Unfortunately, despite the lofty promises of the vaccine as a global public good, wealthy nations are not making such demands. It is therefore understandable that developing countries are also looking at non-voluntary measures such as the proposal for a temporary waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19. No doubt this will be met with opposition from wealthy countries and drug companies. But those countries and companies who refuse to make the WHO C-TAP a success while telling developing countries they are not entitled to take measures to protect public health in the midst of a global health crisis are not credible. 

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