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Rich countries must stop blocking the COVID vaccine patent waiver

16 26 9

The COVID-19 crisis and measures taken by states to mitigate, prevent and contain the spread of the virus have had an immeasurable impact on lives and livelihoods of the nearly eight billion people on the planet. The pandemic and many state responses have brought on what the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has described as a parallel “pandemic of human rights abuses” and the exacerbation of poverty and inequality worldwide.

The World Health Organization has called on governments to place human rights at the heart of their pandemic responses, including by ensuring universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and health technologies. They are globally understood as public health goods and access to them is part of the human right to health.

Despite the repeated rhetorical references by heads of state to the right to health, some countries continue to oppose a waiver of intellectual property rights first put forward to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2020 in a proposal co-sponsored by 64 of its members and reportedly supported by many others.

In effect, these countries are blocking attempts to universalise access to the know-how, technology, and materials required to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.

While intellectual property rights are not the only reason for inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, they are a significant barrier. Similarly, while a waiver is not the only means to tackle the lack of access to health technologies, it is an essential element in facilitating equitable access.

Existing intellectual property flexibilities are demonstrably inadequate in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, there are ample precedents for WTO waivers, including in the area of intellectual property. The 2001 Doha Declaration, for example, was partly implemented through a time limited waiver furthering public health........

© Al Jazeera

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