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WTO Trips talks failure 'a slap in the face'

Health justice activists have slammed the World Trade Organisation's failure to reach an agreement to waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 tests and treatments for poorer countries, with the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) council saying it could not reach consensus after years of discussion.

The news was a “slap in the face”, said Fatima Hassan, South African human rights lawyer and founder of the Health Justice Initiative (HJI).

Hassan, who last year addressed WTO member states in a “last ditch attempt” to win concessions, said “nobody in their right mind imagined that this proposal would be blocked” when it was first proposed in 2020.

“We didn’t expect such opposition to a very simple proposal,” she told The Guardian.

“It’s proof of what we have been saying all along – that the WTO does not serve the interest of patients in the global south because it is hijacked by high-income countries. This decision is a sign of whose lives are seen to matter the most.”

Research published last year found that more than 50% of Covid deaths in low and middle-income countries could have been avoided if people had the same access to vaccines as wealthy states.

And data published by the WHO in January last year showed that 75% of people living in high-income countries had been vaccinated compared with fewer than 25% in low-income states.

“Clearly, to the governments of rich countries, protecting the monopoly profits of pharmaceutical companies was more important than saving lives in the global south,” said Mohga Kamal-Yanni, the policy co-lead for the People’s Vaccine Alliance, an organisation advocating for equitable medicine access across the world.

“For four years, WTO member states have failed to take any meaningful action to respond to Covid-19, and now it looks like the WTO has given up altogether,” she added.

In October 2020, India and South Africa jointly called on the WTO to temporarily suspend patents and other intellectual property rights on all existing and future Covid vaccines, diagnostics and treatments.

The call was supported by more than 60 developing countries, who said the move would ensure equitable global access to medication and prevent wealthy countries from hoarding resources.

However, the proposal faced strong resistance from pharmaceutical companies and many high-income countries, who said it would “stifle innovation”.

In June 2022, a significantly watered-down version of the proposal was agreed, that lifted some restrictions on exporting vaccines.

Campaigners have been lobbying the WTO to extend the waiver, but last week’s decision means there will be no further concessions made on current or future tests or treatments, including those for long Covid.


The Guardian article – WTO fails to reach agreement on providing global access to Covid treatments (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Partial TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines – finally


MSF urges governments to reject draft COVID-19 TRIPS text at WTO


WHO chief calls for Trips waiver and praises SA’s vaccine development project



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