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Countries must build consensus around proposal to waive certain IP during COVID-19 pandemic: MSF

All COVID-19 health tools and technologies should be true global public goods, free from the barriers that patents and other intellectual property impose, it states

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Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is urging all countries to act in solidarity and build consensus around the landmark proposal by India and South Africa to waive certain intellectual property (IP) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The IP waiver proposal, if adopted, would allow countries to choose not to enforce, apply or implement patents and other exclusivities that could impede the production and supply of COVID-19 medical tools, and facilitate quicker and better collaboration for needed development, production and supply, without being restricted by corporate interests and actions.

“Governments must not squander this historic opportunity and avoid repeating the painful lessons of the early years of the HIV/AIDS response. This proposal would give countries more ways to tackle the legal barriers to maximising production and supply of medical products needed for COVID-19 treatment and prevention,” said Yuan Qiong Hu, policy co-coordinator at MSF’s Access Campaign.

“Defending monopoly protection is the antithesis to the current call for COVID-19 medicines and vaccines to be treated as global public goods. In these unprecedented times, governments should act together in the interest of all people everywhere,” said Hu.

“Relying on corporate goodwill or charity is not a solution in a global pandemic. Time and again in our work, we have witnessed the lengths that the pharmaceutical industry will go to protect its patents and profits, despite the immense human cost. We can’t let drugs, tests and vaccines developed to tackle COVID-19 become a luxury for the few—they must be accessible to everyone, everywhere, and waiving patents and IP is a critical step,” said Felipe de Carvalho, MSF’s Access Campaign coordinator in Brazil.

“Even in the midst of a raging global pandemic, pharma corporations continue to follow their business-as-usual approach of maximising profits. The last months have revealed several instances and indications that clearly highlight how IP has hindered or is expected to hinder manufacturing and supply of diagnostics, medical equipment, treatments and vaccines needed to respond to this pandemic. For example, South Africa faced challenges accessing key chemical reagents for COVID-19 diagnostic testing due to proprietary protection on the machines and the reagents. And in Italy, patent holders threatened producers of 3D-printed ventilator valves with patent infringement lawsuits,” said MSF in a statement.

Eswatini, Kenya, Mozambique, Pakistan and Bolivia have now officially joined as co-sponsors of the proposal. Since the beginning of discussions at the WTO TRIPS Council in October, around 100 countries have welcomed or fully supported the proposal.

“However, a small group of WTO members –Australia, Brazil, Canada, the EU, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, and the US – are withholding support that would help build much-needed consensus on the proposal,” stated MSF.

MSF claimed that some of these countries have traditionally backed the interests of their pharmaceutical corporations through a proprietary IP system.

Speaking to Usha Sharma from Express Pharma, Leena Menghaney, Head of MSF Access Campaign in India, informed, “The negotiations will go into next year as TRIPS Council has asked for more time to consider the proposal, which means that the matter is back and will stay with TRIPS Council.”

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