GENEVA (Reuters) – Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staged a protest at the World Trade Organization on Thursday against what it says is the reluctance of the rich world to give up patents and allow more production of COVID-19 vaccines for poor countries.
Activists seeking to waive intellectual property rules unfurl a large sign reading “No Monopoly on COVID – Rich Countries Stop Blocking TRIPS Waivers” in a park next to the WTO headquarters on Lake Geneva.
They want the terms of the TRIPS agreement – Aspects of Intellectual Property Related to WTO Trade – to be replaced to allow generic or other manufacturers to make new products.
WTO member states are holding new talks next week on proposals by India and South Africa to override regulations for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.
“If we have neglect, we will be able in a number of countries to increase production now, which will allow diagnostics, drugs and vaccines to get to where they are most needed,” Stephen Cornish, general director of MSF Switzerland, told Reuters at the WTO.
“At the moment we are seeing very few vaccines making it to the global South, and this is unacceptable in the world today,” he said.
About 100 countries are now supporting the campaign, Cornish added.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), backed up the move in a tweet on Thursday: “If a temporary patent waiver cannot be issued now, during these unprecedented times, when is the right time?”
“Big Pharmacy” has rejected a proposal that would grant compulsory licensing overriding patent rules. Britain, Switzerland and the United States, which have strong domestic pharmaceutical industries, are against neglect.
“Rich countries, EU, US, Canada and Switzerland … are blocking that reduction. And they’re doing it in the name of profit and business and the status quo instead of putting people’s lives over profit, “Cornish said.
Globally, 265 million doses of vaccine have been given, with 80% in just 10 countries, WHO emergency expert Mike Ryan said on social media on Wednesday evening.
He welcomed the launch of the first COVID-19 vaccine this week through the COVAX facility which aims to deliver doses to low-income countries, starting in Ivory Coast.
Nearly 10 million doses have been given in more than 10 countries, he said, adding: “It is a big step forward in terms of at least starting the journey towards better vaccine distribution around the world.”
additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Written by Stephanie Nebehay; edited by William Maclean
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