NEW DELHI: India’s position on patent waivers at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to cover Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics got an unexpected boost on Wednesday with a group of more than 150 civil society organisations, including Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam urging trade ministers not to accept the current negotiating text.
Doctors Without Borders or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), The People’s Vaccine Alliance, Oxfam, Section27 of South Africa and the other organisations have called on trade ministers at the WTO to demand a real waiver.
The group of civil society organisations sent a letter to trade minsters negotiating the draft ministerial decision on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement at WTO’s conference in Geneva, urging them “not to accept the current negotiating text, which represents backsliding that could set a negative precedent for access to medicines and medical tools”.
The group asked governments to adopt a “real TRIPS waiver that will adequately address intellectual property on all essential Covid-19 medical technologies, including treatments, tests, and vaccines during the ongoing pandemic that has claimed more than 15 million lives”, according to a joint statement.
India and South Africa have been insisting that any patent waivers should cover vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. Commerce minister Piyush Goyal, who is participating in the negotiations, has said vaccines are currently not in short supply and that “the super profits of a few pharmaceutical companies prevail over global good”.
In a stinging takedown of the negotiations, Goyal said on Tuesday that some developed countries indicated in meetings that they are “flowing with the wind” on vaccines only because of international pressure “but on diagnostics and therapeutics there is no way we are going to yield”.
He added: “My own sense is that what we are getting is completely half baked and it will not allow us to make any vaccines. They have no intentions of allowing therapeutics and diagnostics…”.
Goyal also said some countries now want to “push the can down the road for therapeutics and diagnostics”, which are now essential.
Winnie Byanyima, UN undersecretary-general and executive director of UNAIDS, said: “A handful of countries is refusing to make concessions. They are blocking a consensus among most of the world for a simple, full waiver. This is a historic mistake. It is dividing the world at a moment we need global unity.”
This is also widening inequalities and “creating global pandemic haves and have-nots”, she said.
Christos Christou, the international president of MSF, said his organisation has highlighted the “glaring gap” in access to Covid-19 medical tools, and it is disheartening that calls for a global solution to overcome intellectual property barriers have been largely ignored. “We are concerned the alternative text that is under negotiation now is inadequate and does not offer a meaningful response to the current pandemic or any future health crisis,” he said.
“We urge all negotiating governments to not accept this text that prioritises protecting corporate and political interests over saving lives,” he added.
Experts have argued the current negotiating text adds new obligations that can make it harder for developing countries to produce and supply vaccines. They have accused the UK, the EU and Switzerland of blocking the TRIPS waiver for almost 20 months.