International civil groups back India’s move on TRIPS waiver for Covid cure

Mumbai: International public health advocacy groups are backing India and South Africa’s joint proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive off certain provisions of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for Covid-19 therapeutics, including vaccines.

Geneva-based Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) that funds research for neglected diseases, UnitAid that invests in innovative technologies for the prevention and treatment of HIV, Malaria and Hepatitis C, and Doctors without Borders, or MSF, are among the more prominent voices urging other countries to back the waiver proposal to ensure Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and drugs are made available to all in need.

Except Moderna, most other vaccine developers have said they will not give up exclusive intellectual property (IP) claims on their Covid drugs/vaccine portfolio despite receiving funding from public institutions to develop Covid drugs and vaccines, aid organisations said.

“We strongly support the proposal of South Africa and India to the World Trade Organization, which would allow countries to choose whether to grant or enforce patents and other IP related to Covid-19, and to take other steps necessary to ensure open sharing of knowledge and data, including through technology transfer,” said Bernard Pécoul, executive director, DNDi, in a statement this week. He added that the organisation knows first-hand how IP restrictions can obstruct research, production and distribution of affordable health technologies.

Leena Menghaney, a lawyer with MSF India, told ET that it is critical for governments to address this global crisis as they did nearly 20 years ago under the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health amidst the HIV/AIDS epidemic. On Tuesday, UnitAid called upon countries to take necessary measures to facilitate and promote access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics that will “help fight the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Marisol Touraine, chair of the Unitaid executive board and former French minister of health, said though the waiver will not solve all challenges, it is still an important step. “While countries and companies also need to do their part, this sends a clear message that we are facing an urgent and exceptional situation, that requires exceptional measures,” Touraine explained.

Article IX 3 and 4 of the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the WTO agreement has an option where countries under exceptional circumstances can seek a waiver from certain obligations under WTO treaties, such as TRIPS. India and South Africa have sought that the waiver should remain valid until the majority of the world’s population has access to effective vaccines and has developed immunity to Covid-19.

ET has learnt that this waiver is expected to last for two years. Under the current provision of TRIPS, countries do have an option to invoke compulsory license (CL) for a particular drug or vaccine to expand its access. However, health activists such as Menghaney maintain that a “case by case” or “product by product” approach required in laws such as CL could be limiting during the pandemic.

India’s domestic pharma industry has backed its government’s move where some of the largest domestic pharma lobby groups have endorsed the waiver.

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