Global Health Summit: Leaders must waive intellectual property rights and push pharma companies to share life-saving technology

  • G20 leaders must waive vaccine patents and other intellectual property restrictions now to save lives
  • 60,000 people dying weekly across South America and South Asia – mass loss of life where vaccines are scarce cannot be ignored
  • Waiver must include diagnostics and treatments

G20 leaders meeting tomorrow at the Global Health Summit must face up to the harsh reality that the clock is ticking and without waiving intellectual property rights now Covid-19 may not be brought under control for years, Amnesty International warned today.

More than 60,000 people died from Covid-19 across South America and South Asia last week, accounting for over 70 per cent of deaths globally in that period. Oxygen is in short supply and health systems in these regions are reaching breaking point. In Pakistan, just one in 75 people have been vaccinated, compared to the US where one in two people have received at least one jab.

With reports revealing that the current draft declaration, known as the “Rome Declaration” to be agreed at the summit, includes no mention of waiving vaccine patents, Amnesty International is calling for urgent action to address this glaring omission.

“Agreeing principles to prevent future pandemics has its place, but it is hard to have confidence when states and companies are failing to take the crucial measures needed to tackle the pandemic ravaging the world today,” said Tamaryn Nelson, Health Advisor at Amnesty International.

The best way to prepare for public health crises is to prevent them altogether, and vaccines play a crucial role in this effort. Some 100 countries including the USA have understood the importance of waiving intellectual property rights to boost supply of vaccines and end Covid-19. Yet, states such as Germany, Australia, the UK and across the EU are failing people around the world by refusing to do the same.

With thousands of people dying every day, it’s clear that profit should not be put ahead of people’s health

Tamaryn Nelson

With thousands of people dying every day, it’s clear that profit should not be put ahead of people’s health. States must take responsibility and pressure big pharma companies into sharing their technology and know-how – so everyone has a fair shot at a vaccine.

“According to current vaccine distribution plans, less developed countries will not receive enough doses to achieve widespread coverage until at least 2023 – and millions of people will continue to die without the medicines and treatments they need. If the whole world is not protected the health of people everywhere will be jeopardized, as variants are likely to arise, evading current vaccines

“There is a solution. If pharmaceutical companies fulfilled their human rights responsibilities and stopped lobbying against efforts aimed at widening access and started sharing their knowledge and technology, more vaccines could be produced at a fairer price. Yet, not one company has agreed to share their intellectual property and know-how through the World Health Organisation. It is discriminatory and short-sighted to suggest that developing countries cannot produce safe and good quality, bioequivalent vaccines, with the necessary resources.

“Given our devastating reality, Amnesty International is calling for leaders at the Global Health Summit to address the elephant in the room and tackle head on the importance of waiving intellectual property restrictions to end Covid-19.  

“The only way to end the pandemic is to end it globally. It’s time for rich states and pharmaceutical companies to put people before profit.”

Background In October 2020, India and South Africa requested a waiver that would allow countries to neither grant nor enforce patents and other specific intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 products until global herd immunity is achieved. A significant number of lower- and middle-income countries supported this proposal. Most high-income countries including the EU and its member States opposed it. The EU is a member of the WTO, and its member states are also WTO members in their own right.  The European Commission represents the EU at WTO meetings.

If agreed, the waiver would suspend the implementation, application and enforcement of certain intellectual property rights, such as patents on pharmaceutical products, and facilitate the development and manufacture of more and lower-cost COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

On 5 May 2021, the USA changed its position and said it would support a waiver – but limited to vaccines only.

International human rights standards and trade rules are clear that protecting intellectual property must never come at the expense of public health. 

The WTO’s Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) sets out minimum standards for many forms of intellectual property that are pertinent to pharmaceutical companies, such as copyrights, trademarks, patents, undisclosed information (including trade secrets and test data) and anti-competitive practices. 

The World Health Organisation has set up the COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) scheme so companies could pool data and knowledge, and then license production and technology transfer to other potential producers with the aim of ensuring people everywhere could access vaccines quicker. So far, not a single pharmaceutical company has joined the data-pooling scheme.

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