India-South Africa Covid patent waiver plea gets 62 backers

The 62 co-sponsors of a proposal floated by India and South Africa seeking patent waivers on Covid-related medical products have said that universal access to immunisation, treatments, testing and other products to control the pandemic should be the priority of all countries.

In the first ever joint statement issued Monday, the co-sponsors—that includes Indonesia, Kenya and Pakistan—said an amended waiver proposal is being worked on to clarify the scope of the proposed waiver and the time period during which it will apply. The statement is also the first joint official response after the US gave its support for text-based negotiations.

They also said that they will engage in the negotiations to achieve a waiver with the “necessary flexibility to ensure swift outcomes” as there is a need to mobilise global manufacturing capacity and to diversify supply options.

“Universal access to immunisation, treatments, testing and other products to control the pandemic should be our priority,” the co-sponsors said in their statement to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

India and South Africa had in October last year sought a waiver in global intellectual property agreements to ensure uninterrupted flow of vaccines amid the ongoing pandemic.

The proposal calls for a waiver for all WTO members of certain provisions of copyrights, industrial designs, patents and protection of undisclosed information in the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement for prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19.

It is being revised now to bring more countries on the negotiating table and proceed to text-based discussions.

Almost 130 countries support the proposal at present. The US has supported a waiver for vaccines only.

“The amended waiver proposal seeks to further clarify the scope of the proposed waiver while also addressing the period during which it will apply,” they said in the statement.

They also said that continuous mutations and emergence of new variants of Covid-19 highlight the significant uncertainties and complexities of controlling it and underscore the urgency of this proposal.

“Co-sponsors confirm that they will engage in this process with the necessary flexibility to ensure swift outcomes,” they said, adding that any outcome in these negotiations must respect the wishes and common interests of the majority of the WTO members.

“We are keeping our scope as before. It is a matter of negotiation what the final scope will be—products, IP or the duration,” said an official.

As per the submission, the promise of international solidarity and of global public good “sounds hollow as staggering inequity in access persists” as countries fail to work in solidarity and take action to remove intellectual property barriers.

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