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Source: Médecins Sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders (MSF)

Over 100 countries support the landmark proposal, but Australia is not one of them

16 December 2020 – Ahead of a critical meeting at the World Trade Organization today – and against the backdrop of COVID-19 cases surging globally – Médecins Sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders (MSF) urges all countries to act in solidarity and build consensus around the landmark proposal by India and South Africa to waive certain intellectual property (IP) during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the WTO General Council meeting on 16-17 December, governments must take all necessary steps to make this proposal a reality.

The IP waiver proposal, if adopted, would allow countries to choose not to enforce, apply or implement patents and other exclusivities that could impede the production and supply of COVID-19 medical tools, and facilitate quicker and better collaboration for needed development, production and supply, without being restricted by corporate interests and actions.  

“Now is the time for Australia to show commitment to the global community by ensuring that any vaccine or treatment developed during this pandemic is available and accessible to all who need it. The reality is the pandemic isn’t over until it’s over for everyone.” said Jennifer Tierney, Executive Director of MSF Australia.

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, there was overwhelming consensus among states on the urgent need for international collaboration to speed up product development, scale up manufacturing, expand the supply of effective medical technologies and ensure everyone, everywhere is protected from its impact. But global supply of vaccines is likely to be far short of what is needed, constrained by limited manufacturing capacity and countries hoarding doses.

“Governments must not squander this historic opportunity and avoid repeating the painful lessons of the early years of the HIV/AIDS response,” said Yuan Qiong Hu, Policy Coordinator at MSF’s Access Campaign. “This proposal would give countries more ways to tackle the legal barriers to maximizing production and supply of medical products needed for COVID-19 treatment and prevention.”
 
Even in the midst of a raging global pandemic, pharmaceutical corporations continue to follow their business-as-usual approach of maximizing profits. The last few months have demonstrated several instances and indications that clearly highlight how IP has hindered or is expected to hinder manufacturing and supply of diagnostics, medical equipment, treatments and vaccines needed to respond to this pandemic. For example, South Africa faced challenges accessing key chemical reagents for COVID-19 diagnostic testing due to proprietary protection on the machines and the reagents. And in Italy, patent holders threatened producers of 3D-printed ventilator valves with patent infringement lawsuits.

“Relying on corporate goodwill or charity is not a solution in a global pandemic,” said Felipe de Carvalho, MSF’s Access Campaign Coordinator in Brazil. “Time and again in our work, we have witnessed the lengths that the pharmaceutical industry will go to protect its patents and profits, despite the immense human cost. We can’t let drugs, tests and vaccines developed to tackle COVID-19 become a luxury for the few—they must be accessible to everyone, everywhere, and waiving patents and IP is a critical step.”

The pharmaceutical industry and other opponents of this proposal are making misleading claims that IP has enabled the breakthrough of COVID-19 medicines and vaccines. In reality, public sector resources and philanthropic funding have been the main drivers of the unprecedented research efforts, through the investment of billions of US dollars to support the research and development of COVID-19 medical tools. In addition, governments, health care workers, patients, COVID-19 survivors and the general public have contributed enormously to clinical trials and other R&D activities on different therapeutics and vaccines. Yet many of the pharmaceutical corporations are striving to commercialise and monopolise scientific breakthroughs originating in public labs with public funding around the world.

“Defending monopoly protection is the antithesis to the current call for COVID-19 medicines and vaccines to be treated as global public goods,” said Hu. “In these unprecedented times, governments should act together in the interest of all people everywhere.”

E-swatini, Kenya, Mozambique, Pakistan and Bolivia have now officially joined as co-sponsors of the proposal. Since the beginning of discussions at the WTO TRIPS Council in October, around 100 countries have welcomed or fully supported the proposal. However, a small group of WTO members –Australia, Brazil, Canada, the EU, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, and the US – are withholding support that would help build much needed consensus on the proposal. Some of these countries have traditionally backed the interests of their pharmaceutical corporations through a proprietary IP system.

Note: MSF-Australia is calling on Australians to show their support by signing this petition, appealing to the Australian government to put lives over profit in this pandemic: https://msfa.good.do/covid-petition/covid-vaccine-petition

The Australian section of MSF was established in 1995 and is one of 24 international MSF offices around the world committed to delivering medical humanitarian assistance to populations in crisis. Last year up to 200 field positions were filled by Australians and New Zealanders. MSF delivers medical care based on need alone and operates independently of government, religion or economic influence and irrespective of race, religion or gender. For more information visit www.msf.org.au

MIL OSI – Global Reports