International civil society members urge Modi, SA Prez to reject ‘unequal’ TRIPS waiver being circulated

They have urged PM Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to reject the ‘unequal and inadequate’ TRIPS waiver that is being circulated by the European Union

Representative image
Representative image

Ashlin Mathew

More than 300 civil society organisations and health experts from across the world have written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to reject the ‘unequal and inadequate’ TRIPS waiver that is being circulated by the European Union.

Last week, National Herald had reported that contrary to India’s public stand for a waiver of intellectual property rights such as patents and trade secrets for manufacturing all Covid-19-related medical products, the country had reportedly agreed for a compromise with EU and the US for compulsory licensing of the vaccines.

The compromise agreement omits several proposals put forth by India and South Africa and limits the agreement to only vaccines. It covers only patents and does not address other intellectual property barriers, such as trade secrets and the compulsory licensing introduces unnecessary listing of patents for World Trade Organisation members. There are too many limitations in the agreement to make any significant difference.

The European Union has been opposed to a waiver of the IP rights and initially the US administration under Joe Biden had supported them partially, but now the Biden administration has reversed its position.

In the open letter to the heads of both the States, it has been highlighted that TRIPS waiver that is being circulated would inexplicably and unjustifiably erect more barriers to manufacturing life-saving medical technologies, including adding an impossible requirement to list every patent related to a vaccine.

There is also a risk it could prevent the export of surplus vaccines to other countries in need. “And by imposing new constraints and undermining the existing WTO flexibilities in the pandemic context, it represents a step backwards from an already untenable status quo,” states the letter, whose signatories include Prof Patrick Bond of South Africa, Dr Bharti Ali, Prof Chandan Mukherjee and Dr Mira Shiva of India.

The extreme inequality in access to therapeutics and diagnostics is costing lives and harming countries’ socio-economic recovery but, in line with the US Government position, the text excludes these lifesaving tools and focuses only on vaccines.

Moreover, it excludes some countries and overall sets a very harmful precedent for future health crises, observes the note, which has been endorsed by organisations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Global Call to Action Against Poverty, African Alliance, Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, All India Drug Action Network, and Third World Network.

The letter reiterates that the European Union and other rich countries have chosen to block the path to an early exit from this pandemic. They have put the lives of millions of people at risk by perpetuating vaccine inequality, creating the perfect breeding ground for new and potentially more dangerous or vaccine-resistant variants.

They have looked the other way while millions have died needlessly because developing countries were not given the rights and the technology to make or import COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments,” stated the letter.

The EU has been, instead, pushing for limiting export restrictions and issuing licences that would allow specific manufacturers to avoid intellectual property rights without a complete waiver. The EU’s compromise agreement is a win only for pharmaceutical companies, who were lobbying for intellectual property protections over essential medicines.

While there has been no agreement on the leaked text, the civil rights activists and rights organisations have urged the leaders to “stand firm at this critical moment, to say no, and to reject this inadequate proposal. Without significant changes to the text, including the unconditional waiver of obstructive TRIPS obligations, we will continue to see preventable deaths from COVID-19 and the global south will remain unprepared for the next major health crisis”.

They have requested the leaders to stand together with the co-sponsors of the TRIPS waiver to demand the major changes required to achieve an equitable response to this pandemic.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines