South Africa, India want World Trade Organisation to abandon rules for Covid-19 medicines

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A laboratory worker places a test tube containing a patients sample into a box during coronavirus detection tests.
Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • SA and India say intellectual property rights, including patents, could be a barrier to the provision of affordable medicine.
  • They are therefore calling on the World Trade Organisation to waive the rules.
  • This will make it easier for developing countries to produce or import Covid-19 drugs.

South Africa, together with India, want the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive intellectual property rules to make it easier for developing countries to produce or import Covid-19 drugs, a joint letter shows.

There is currently no vaccine or medicine to effectively prevent or treat Covid-19.

In their letter dated 2 October, the two countries called on the global trade body to waive parts of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which governed patents, trademarks, copyright and other intellectual property rules globally.

"As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns (over) how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at (an) affordable price to meet global demand," the letter, posted on the Geneva-based WTO's website, said.

"Given  this  present  context  of  global  emergency,  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."

The two countries said said all WTO members are struggling to contain the spread of the pandemic and provide health care services to those affected.

However, they said developing nations were disproportionately affected by the pandemic and that intellectual property rights, including patents, could be a barrier to the provision of affordable medicine.

"Many developed, developing and least developed countries have declared a national emergency with the aim to curb the growing outbreak, and as advised by the WHO implemented social distancing measures with significant consequences for society and the economy. Notably, developing countries and least developed countries are especially disproportionately impacted."

The letter asked that the WTO's Council for TRIPS recommend a waiver to the General Council, the WTO's top decision-making body in Geneva, "as early as possible".

It did not say how much support India and South Africa had from other countries.

A draft General Council decision text submitted with the letter said the waiver should last an as yet unspecified number of years and be reviewed annually.

- Additional reporting by News24

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