Nearly 30,000 Covid deaths a day since WTO started discussing IP-waiver, say pro-health groups


Nearly 30,000 people have died every day of Covid-19, since discussions were initiated at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to make vaccines and other Covid medication more accessible, say pro-health groups.

In the build up to the WTO’s 12 Ministerial Conference, representatives with Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance said, “As many as 17.5 million people have died from Covid-19 in the 20 months since WTO talks about relaxing Covid-19 intellectual property (IP) rules began — the equivalent of nearly 30,000 people a day.” And over half these deaths were in low- and lower middle-income countries, they added.

Intellectual property rights help companies protect their innovation and market, among other things. And this leads to a situation where the innovation is accessible to the few who can afford it, as was witnessed in the case of Covid-19 vaccines.

To expand access to vaccines and Covid-19 products to more people, by allowing more companies to make less-expensive, similar versions of these innovative products, India and South Africa proposed a temporary IP waiver in October 2020. This is backed by over 100 countries. But a few countries, including the UK, Switzerland, and those in the European Union, have blocked WTO talks from reaching an agreement which could have saved countless lives, health campaign groups alleged.

“Now, instead of the IP waiver, WTO negotiations are focussed on a dangerous and limited alternative,” they said. The alternative proposal would not help producers in lower-income countries, the campaigners warned, “as it adds more hurdles preventing poorer countries from producing vaccines”, covered only vaccines and did not cover all technology transfer.

Pointing to the 30,000 deaths, Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s health policy lead, said, “If the world had acted immediately, then many of these people could still be alive today. Yet, the UK and EU countries have continually sought to delay and dilute any meaningful outcome at the WTO.”

Currently, less than a fifth of people in African countries have been fully vaccinated. For more than a year, vaccines were not available and once supplies began, they were sporadic and often delivered too close to expiry to be used in full, the note said. Despite the challenges, the African continent has collectively administered 70 per cent of the doses it has received — higher than many European countries, it added.

Oxfam and the Alliance warned that the WTO deadlock on an IP waiver undermined the credibility of the organisation, especially as the global economy faces the prospect of a recession coupled with rising food and fuel prices. Campaigners are concerned that the current “vaccine apartheid” would be repeated with the next generation vaccines and other Covid treatments.

Julia Kosgei, policy advisor at the People’s Vaccine Alliance, urged the EU to show some flexibility and “good faith” to secure a genuine IP waiver and rebuild trust with the world.

Published on

June 09, 2022

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