Dublin, Friday, 17th June
Following more than 2 years of a pandemic and the loss of an estimated over 15 million lives, on June 17th 2022 Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreed a Ministerial decision on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. The agreement differs significantly from the original comprehensive temporary waiver proposal introduced by the Indian and South African governments in October 2020 with the goal of increasing global access to COVID-19 health technologies. The WTO decision is much more limited in scope, and does not waive intellectual property rights as such, instead it primarily modifies existing TRIPS flexibilities. It is also temporary, only applies to COVID-19 vaccines and does not currently include therapeutics and diagnostics. Moreover, this decision can only be used by ‘eligible Members’ and seeks to exclude many countries from using it.
The narrower agreed deal does little more than modify the existing compulsory licensing system for certain eligible WTO States. This deal in its current form has been pushed by the EU following an extensive lobbying campaign by the pharmaceutical industry. In supporting the EU approach, the Irish Government has failed to show solidarity with countries who have had the least access to vaccines, and in doing so, it has ignored requests from the Seanad, and the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment for a comprehensive TRIPS waiver for vaccines.
Dr Kieran Harkin: “Access to Medicines Ireland are disappointed with the inadequacy of the WTO decision which comes after more than 20 months of negotiation, during which there have been more than 15 million deaths, disproportionately affecting countries without fair access to vaccines”
He continues “This agreement is not the TRIPS waiver we campaigned for, as it does not address the core problem of intellectual property barriers to the production of COVID-19 health technologies. The measures outlined in the decision will not ensure affordable access to lifesaving medical tools and will not alter the status quo for future global health crises and pandemics.”
Professor Aisling McMahon stated: “The agreed WTO Ministerial decision is much narrower than the original temporary TRIPS waiver proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020. This WTO decision applies only to vaccines, and it does not offer a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 health-technologies as the original TRIPS waiver had proposed. Instead, it makes modifications to some existing TRIPS rules, and can be used by only some WTO States. In general, in my view it falls far short of what is needed to meet global health needs in a pandemic.”
Access to Medicines Ireland (AMI) is disappointed by the Irish government and the EU’s failure to fully support the original proposal by India and South Africa which would have removed many of the key barriers for LMICs to source and manufacture their own COVID-19 vaccines, medicines and diagnostics. AMI calls on the Irish government and the EU to support an extension to the scope of the waiver to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics which is set to be considered within 6 months of today’s decision.
NOTES TO THE EDITOR