Developing countries demand equal access to coronavirus vaccines | News on the coronavirus pandemic

South Africa, India and more than 100 other countries have called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive patents for COVID-19 vaccines, saying they cannot vaccinate their populations.

The two countries first launched the call in October last year, calling on the WTO to waive provisions in a trade agreement governing intellectual property rights so that medical products can be more readily available to consumers. developing countries. More than 100 countries have since joined the calls.

Approving the waiver requests, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this month: “If a temporary patent waiver cannot be granted now, in these unprecedented times, when will be the right time? “

At the heart of the discussion is a proposal submitted in October by South Africa and India to suspend the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

The aim is to facilitate the transfer of technology and scientific knowledge to developing countries in order to accelerate the global production of vaccines and other necessary equipment.

Last month, more than 400 organizations in the United States joined forces to call on President Joe Biden to approve the waiver, while 115 members of the European Commission issued a statement urging the European Union to drop its opposition to temporary suspension.

The African Union has also supported the relaxation of intellectual property (IP) rules, calling it a “win-win for everyone”.

Accumulation of vaccines

According to a campaign group called ONE, richer countries are racking up excessive doses of COVID-19 vaccines and buying a billion more than their citizens need, preventing poorer countries from getting vaccinated this year.

“This huge vaccine excess is the epitome of vaccine nationalism, with countries prioritizing their own immunization needs at the expense of other countries and the global recovery,” ONE said in a report last month.

The ONE policy team added that a “massive correction of course” in distribution was needed if the world was to protect and save lives as the death toll from the pandemic approaches 2.5 million.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said last month that only 10 countries had so far administered 75 percent of all vaccinations, describing it as “extremely uneven and unfair”.

At least 130 countries have yet to receive a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Guterres said.

“At this critical time, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community,” he said.

“ Trickle ” to the south of the world

Last week, Médecins Sans Frontières (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) organized a protest at the WTO against what it called the reluctance of the rich world to give up patents and allow greater production of COVID-19 vaccines. for the poorest countries.

Campaigners calling for the waiver of intellectual property rules want the terms of the TRIPS agreement struck down to allow generic and other manufacturers to make the new products.

“If we had the waiver, we could in a number of countries increase production now, which would allow diagnostics, drugs and vaccines to get to where they are needed most,” Stephen Cornish, Managing Director of MSF Switzerland, said last week.

“Right now we only see a trickle of vaccines arriving in the south of the globe, and that is just not acceptable in today’s world,” he said.

“The rich countries, the EU, the United States, Canada and Switzerland… are blocking this exemption. And they do it in the name of profit, business and the status quo instead of putting human lives above profit. “

Several high-income countries – including the US, UK and Switzerland – have argued that patent waivers would hamper scientific innovation by discouraging private investment.

Africa drive

Africa is struggling to get enough vaccines to launch nationwide immunization programs for the continent’s 1.3 billion people.

Since the start of the year, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged rich countries not to accumulate surplus COVID-19 vaccines.

Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union and whose country has recorded nearly half of coronavirus deaths on the continent, said the world needed those who were stockpiling doses to release them for others to use. .

Reporting from Johannesburg, Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller said African countries were particularly affected by the current situation.

Some African countries, including Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, have started receiving their first doses through the UN-supported COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility (COVAX) program, but many African countries have been left behind , she said.

“Although COVID-19 drugs are being tested on the continent, many African countries still remain at the back of the pack,” Miller said.

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