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Last-ditch effort by pro-health groups on Covid products before WTO meet concludes

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Literally overnight, about 150 civil society organisations have come together, urging trade ministers at the ongoing World Trade Organization meet in Geneva, to “demand a real waiver”, and not accept the current draft of the decision emerging from the WTO 12 th Ministerial Conference.

“People continue to die from Covid without access to life-saving treatments. It is, therefore, indefensible that the draft Ministerial Decision does not immediately apply to all Covid medical tools, including therapeutics and diagnostics. The failure of the text to address intellectual property barriers beyond patents severely limits its effectiveness in increasing production and supply,” said the letter signed by pro-health groups, including The People’s Vaccine Alliance, Oxfam, Section27 of South Africa and MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières).

The WTO MC was initially scheduled to conclude on Wednesday, but was extended by a day, and the latest letter is a last-ditch attempt to get government representatives of different member countries to not sign on the current draft.

India and South Africa had proposed a temporary waiver on Intellectual Property covering all Covid products in October 2020. An IP waiver during the pandemic would have allowed more companies to produce breakthrough Covid products from more locations, thereby enhancing access, besides bringing down the cost. However, a consensus has eluded the discussions, and instead, the scope of the waiver has been limited to just vaccines, besides bringing in restrictions including limiting who could manufacture and export it, and so on.

“The draft Ministerial Decision is discriminatory as it arbitrarily excludes some of the world’s largest producers of medical tools and encourages developing countries with export capacity to opt out from using the proposed decision to produce and supply medical tools,” said the letter.

Under the guise of ‘clarifying’ existing flexibilities under the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ) Agreement, the proposed text “risks adding restrictions and complex bureaucratic conditions resulting in hurdles to the production and supply of Covid medical tools. These, together with never-before required time limits and product limits applied to clarifying the existing public health flexibilities, would set a negative precedent for responses to future health challenges”, said the letter.

Further, the letter adds that the process to reach the current draft text was “flawed, discriminatory and lacking in transparency”. It has given outsized influence to the opponents of additional IP flexibilities while limiting or even excluding the voice of some countries hit hardest by inequality in access to Covid technologies, it said, adding that civil society organisations had not been able to participate meaningfully in the process and had been criticised for raising legitimate concerns.

Published on

June 15, 2022



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