COVID-19: South Africa, India Want Patent Waiver For Vaccines, MSF Supports

International aid organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has shown full support for the ongoing campaign by South Africa and India against patent approvals for COVID-19 vaccines.

MSF is also calling on all countries to support the call by both countries as part of efforts to fight COVID-19.

On October 2, both countries sent a joint communication to the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Council of the World Trade Organisation, the multilateral institution formed to promote free trade between countries.

The communication asked the body to recommend a waiver of major intellectual-property provisions of the TRIPS agreement for technologies to prevent, contain and treat COVID-19.

The proposal was made in the middle of the global race to develop medicines and vaccines against the coronavirus. 

The communication said, “It is important for WTO members to work together to ensure that intellectual property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat COVID-19.”

In agreement, MSF said, “If the proposal is approved, it will be a real game-changer in the COVID-19 response.

“The proposal put forward by India and South Africa suggests that the waiver on IP stands until most of the world has reached immunity, and it includes developing and developed countries. 

“By removing intellectual property on COVID-19 medical tools, we take back control from pharmaceutical corporations.

“We can avoid repeating the tragedy of the HIV/ AIDS epidemic, when monopolies on lifesaving treatments saw people in high-income countries gain access to lifesaving ARVs (antiretrovirals) while millions in developing countries were left to die, despite the existence of affordable HIV drugs,” MSF added.

The aid organisation stated that overriding monopolies on COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, tools and equipment will allow uninterrupted global collaboration to scale-up manufacturing and supply. 

Current intellectual property barriers limit where these lifesaving medical tools can be sold and who can manufacture them, and most often keep prices sky high.

“The greater the diversity of manufacturers and suppliers, the sooner governments and treatment providers around the world will be able to access and utilize COVID-19 medicines and medical tools to save more lives.

“Any medicine, vaccine or medical tools for COVID-19 should be affordable for anyone who needs it.

“Relying on the voluntary actions of pharma corporations who hold exclusive rights is not the solution in a global pandemic,” MSF said.

Breaking pharmaceutical monopolies on COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and medical tools will allow more affordable versions to come onto the market sooner. Monopolies allow pharma corporations to keep prices artificially high, to the exclusion of much of the world’s population.

Gilead, the patent holder on remdesivir, the only drug so far approved specifically to treat COVID-19, have priced it at US$2,340 for a five-day treatment course in most countries.

This is despite receiving more than $70 million in public funding to develop it and research that has shown it can be manufactured for as little as US$9 per treatment course.

MSF has urged governments to back this proposal and put public health and people’s lives over the business interests of pharmaceutical corporations.

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Anita Eboigbe

Anita Eboigbe is a journalist and data analyst with nearly a decade of media and communications experience in Nigeria. She has expertise in human interest reporting, data reporting, interactive content development and media business management. Anita has written for several national and international publications with a focus on communication for development. She holds an honours degree in Mass Communication and several certifications in data analysis and data journalism.

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