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SA & India want WTO to waiver IP rights for Covid-19 medicine

Without a rapid waiver of some existing safeguards for intellectual property rights, some countries; particularly developing ones that have been “disproportionately impacted” would find it hard to access vaccines or medicines quickly.

CAPE TOWN – Intellectual property (IP) rights have the potential of impeding mass production of existing or new health products.

Owners of the IP rights can grant or withhold licensing the technology required for manufacturing or further developing a product to any firm or country. 

Should a license be denied, this would mean that the technology will not be made available for them to manufacture or supply that health product in that particular country.

Currently, the infrastructure development of medicines and vaccines mostly lies in high-income countries; prices are also set by them.

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It is against this backdrop, that South Africa and India have asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive some provisions in the international agreements that regulate intellectual property rights, to speed up efforts to prevent, treat and contain the Covid-19 pandemic and make sure developing countries are not left behind.

It was reported that both countries, in a joint submission to the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights on Friday, argued that without a rapid waiver of some existing safeguards for intellectual property rights, some countries; particularly developing ones that have been “disproportionately impacted” — would find it hard to access vaccines or medicines quickly.

However, Thomas Cueni, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Association (IFPMA) argues that intellectual property has not been an impediment to the common goal of ending this pandemic.

“We have never needed innovation so much as now. This is probably the worst possible time to weaken intellectual property when biopharmaceutical companies are investing significantly and are taking many risks without any guarantee that their medicines or vaccines will make it past the finishing line,” he said.

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According to the letter posted on the WTO website, the countries say the existing flexibilities written into the rules might not be enough and could result in legal difficulties for developing nations. Countries with a limited capacity to manufacture pharmaceuticals are particularly vulnerable, and this could make the process of importing and exporting medicines “cumbersome and lengthy.

 

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