Covid-19: Ramaphosa weighs in on 'vaccine-apartheid' debate, says vaccines should be for public good

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President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: GCIS)
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: GCIS)
  • Two decades ago, at the height of the HIV/Aids epidemic, the World Trade Organisation was locked in a fierce battle between pharmaceutical companies who had developed HIV treatments.
  • President Cyril Ramaphosa says vaccines should be viewed as a global public good.
  • The US has announced its decision to support a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has weighed in on the "vaccine-apartheid" debate saying vaccines should be viewed as a global public good and should be made available to all, not just the highest bidder.

Ramaphosa said in his Monday newsletter: "If we as the international community are truly committed to human rights and the values of equality and non-discrimination, vaccines should be viewed as a global public good."

Two decades ago, at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was locked in a fierce battle between pharmaceutical companies who had developed HIV treatments. The President said Africa could not afford the treatments, but desperately needed them.

CYRIL RAMAPHOSA | Vaccine apartheid: International community needs to put all lives first

Ramaphosa said South Africa was the site of victory in a lawsuit that pitted public good against private profit.

"At the time, we were in the grip of the HIV/Aids pandemic and sought to enforce a law allowing us to import and manufacture affordable generic antiretroviral medication to treat people with HIV and save lives." 

He added that in response, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry sued the government, arguing that such a move violated the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). 

"This is a comprehensive multilateral agreement on intellectual property," he said. 

Last week the US government announced its decision to support a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines.

ALSO READ | US support on Covid-19 vaccine patents: This is how it happened

South Africa and India have submitted a proposal to the WTO for a temporary waiver on specific aspects of TRIPS to facilitate the broader access to technologies needed to produce vaccines and medicines. 

"The idea is to rapidly scale up local production to ensure wider access to affordable and effective vaccines."

The waiver proposal currently enjoys the support of more than 100 countries.

"The enforcement of intellectual property rights is critical to research and development and innovation in the quest for human progress," he said.

Ramaphosa believes the waiver is important and necessary at this time.

"This is an unprecedented situation. It requires that all intellectual property, knowledge, technology, and data related to Covid-19 health technologies be put at the disposal of all. They should be made available to all, not just to the highest bidders," he said.

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