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WHO backs Indo-SA move for patent waiver on vaccine

It’s not a charity issue, says Dr Tedros

By B N KUMAR

There is an urgent call for global solidarity, and the unhindered global sharing of technology and know-how, India and South Africa tell WTO

MUMBAI, May 3 (The CONNECT) -The World Health Organisation has supported a joint proposal by India and South Africa for waver of Intellectual Property Rights on COVID vaccines to facilitate widespread manufacturing the antidote to reach out to the humanity across the globe.

Internationally, there is an urgent call for global solidarity, and the unhindered global sharing of technology and know-how in order that rapid responses for the handling of COVID-19 can be put in place on a real time basis, the Indo-US note to the WTO said.

Welcoming the initiative, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this is not a charity issue. There is no reason as to why the IPR can be waived, he said addressing a virtual global media conference from Geneva today.

A particular concern for countries with insufficient or no manufacturing capacity are the requirements of Article 31bis and consequently the cumbersome and lengthy process for the import and export of pharmaceutical products, India and South Africa said.

Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, also supported the issue. He told the global media that he would push for the waiver at G-7 level as well.

Given this present context of global emergency, the Indo-SA proposal to WTO 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.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already also informed President Biden on April 26 about India's initiative at the WTO for a relaxation in the norms of the Agreement on TRIPS to ensure quick and affordable access to vaccines and medicines for developing countries. In his telephonic conversation with President Biden, Modi The Prime Minister underscored the need to ensure smooth and open supply chains of raw materials and inputs required for manufacture of vaccines, medicines, and therapeutics related to COVID-19. 

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has cautioned that the "Pandemic represents an unprecedented disruption to the global economy and world trade, as production and consumption are scaled back across the globe", the note on IPR waver said and pointed out that there has been a break down in global supply chains coupled with growing supply-demand gaps.

The two countries expressed concern at the reports about intellectual property rights hindering or potentially hindering timely provisioning of affordable medical products to the patients. It is also reported that some WTO Members have carried out urgent legal amendments to their national patent laws to expedite the process of issuing compulsory/government use licenses, the note said.

Beyond patents, other intellectual property rights may also pose a barrier, with limited options to overcome those barriers. In addition, many countries especially developing countries may face institutional and legal difficulties when using flexibilities available in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

The outbreak has led to a swift increase in global demand with many countries facing acute shortages, constraining the ability to effectively respond to the outbreak. Shortages of these products has put the lives of health and other essential workers at risk and led to many avoidable deaths. It is also threatening to prolong the COVID-19 pandemic. The longer the current global crisis persist, the greater the socio-economic fallout, making it imperative and urgent to collaborate internationally to rapidly contain the outbreak, the note said.

As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 are developed, there are significant concerns, how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable price to meet global demand. Critical shortages in medical products have also put at grave risk patients suffering from other communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Beyond patents, other intellectual property rights may also pose a barrier, with limited options to overcome those barriers. In addition, many countries especially developing countries may face institutional and legal difficulties when using flexibilities available in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). A particular concern for countries with insufficient or no manufacturing capacity are the requirements of Article 31bis and consequently the cumbersome and lengthy process for the import and export of pharmaceutical products, the note to WETO said.

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