US Support for TRIPS Waiver: Good, But Not Good Enough
Peoples Vaccine Campaign | Statement | 07 May, 2021
The Peoples Vaccine Campaign [PVC] of South Africa welcomes the US government’s support for a waiver of provisions of the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property [TRIPS] regarding intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines. And while welcomed, we know this is no gesture of goodwill or simple common sense, but the result of massive global solidarity and mobilisation by activists around the world, who have been fighting for equitable access for Covid-19 vaccines for all. This is a victory of the people.
However, the road is long before the vaccine is freely available as a public good. We note the pharmaceutical companies are amongst the most powerful in the world. And they will resist the loss of the massive cash cow the vaccines have become through market exclusivity and excessive pricing. Big pharma will not take this lying down and use every trick in their extensive tool-box to protect their market power. It must be further noted that there are several countries at the WTO still opposed to such a waiver.
The PVC is concerned that this endorsement does not acknowledge South Africa and India’s call for a waiver on COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics. It is only a partial commitment to the waiver request submitted to the WTO in October 2020. The current crisis in India shows the life-saving importance of therapeutics like ventilators, and the importance of diagnostics in identifying and monitoring new viral variants. The PVC unequivocally supports the call for a waiver on these products.
Moreover, manufacturing capacity in poorer countries is underdeveloped. Hence there will have to be extensive transfer of technologies if the importance of local manufacturing is to be realised. And yet the US statement of support gives no explicit guarantee that the waiver on vaccines will be implemented in a manner that promotes greater vaccine manufacturing capacity in in the global south through various methods such as:
- Transferring know-how;
- Sharing trade secrets;
- Promoting technical assistance;
- Sharing patented knowledge.
Deadlier or more contagious variants are emerging thick and fast. We have seen first hand the massive toll of what happens both in South Africa and currently in India. The real global death toll is now estimated by many to be just under 7 million. The PVC, with our international partners, will closely watch what happens at the WTO’s meeting in June. We cannot afford any lack of transparency or dilution of what is already an extremely moderate motion that has been forwarded by South Africa and India.
For our collective survival, we cannot blindly rely on the TRIPS treaty; a mechanism made to protect profit margins, not people’s lives in global pandemics. Yet while deeply, and likely irrevocably flawed, the current crisis demands that we use all the tools at our disposal to promote equitable access to COVID-19 technologies.
In light of this, we call on pharmaceutical companies to urgently issue voluntary licenses for their products to immediately boost production of COVID-19 vaccines.
Additionally, we call on our own government to fix the domestic patent laws, so that we are better able to use existing TRIPS flexibilities, such as compulsory licensing or government-use licensing. Equally important at home, is to fix our health system, so a universal public health care system becomes a collective responsibility of all society. Securing vaccines without doctors, nurses and robust health infrastructure are vaccines without value, and action without investment against future pandemics.
The delay in and extremely unequal distribution of life-saving vaccines is a clear expression of global inequality. It has indirectly caused the premature deaths of millions of people. Also now millions more with the unfolding human catastrophe in India and Brazil. A fate, in all likelihood, awaiting many countries in the near future, including South Africa. So while we call upon pharmaceutical companies and governments alike to do what is right, what is vital, the COVID-19 experience has demonstrated that we cannot expect such calls to be honoured without pressure from the people.
The Biden Administration’s announcement is a testament to this, and what together we can achieve. And so we call on the World’s people to continue to organize, to come together and put an end to this injustice.
Issued by the PVC,
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