Affordable Covid drugs kept out of reach by slow WTO | Global development

There is still a long way to go before South Africa and other developing countries can manufacture Covid vaccines and treatments quickly and without paying the huge fees demanded by big American and European pharmaceutical companies.

Last week, the World Trade Organization (WTO) announced that the 180-member trade forum had taken a step towards a patent waiver that would allow developing countries to make the medicines they need – including vaccines , testing and treatment – as long as possible. five years, without payments to pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer.

The EU, India, South Africa and the United States, known as the Quad, said they had reached an agreement on the proposed waiver on trade-related aspects of intellectual property (Trips ), with China also expected to vote in favour.

Except that the deal only called for further negotiations with Quad, and on the table right now, there’s nothing more than what was on the table last year.

Max Lawson, co-chairman of pressure group People’s Vaccine Alliance, said: ‘It is a tragedy that it has taken nearly two years and millions of deaths to reach this point, and a travesty that the proposed action is indeed below what is necessary.”

Health and poverty campaigners say WTO boss Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, elected last year amid a fanfare of hope and expectation, appears to have provided cover to big pharma rather than push for wider access, as she had promised.

Ngozi’s supporters say she is playing a long game, although Covid-19 may be a distant memory – and Pfizer shareholders even wealthier than they are today – by the time that long game will be played. She is said to be in favor of a full waiver, but progress towards a breakthrough remains elusive, despite official claims to the contrary.

Lawson said the WTO continues to put corporate interests ahead of global health needs. “It adds more unnecessary hurdles than existed before negotiations began, and failure to act now on treatment and testing is inexcusable.”

EU countries, distracted by the war in Ukraine, want their own big pharma to compete with American companies.

That’s why, Lawson added, “it’s not the Trips waiver backed by over 100 governments. It’s not endorsed by any member other than the EU. And it’s totally insufficient to a pandemic that has killed an estimated 20 million people and is growing.”

Other experts have been calling for comprehensive changes for months. In a letter to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in March, Peter Kamalingin, Pan Africa Director of Oxfam, Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz , accused the WTO of failing to provide “any meaningful access to vaccines, treatments or tests”.

They said the EU had launched a “belligerent block on any real waiver of intellectual property (IP) barriers” and criticized the US for its “insistence that the waiver of the intellectual property (IP) they support should be limited to vaccines”. The EU and US have also required countries to apply for product-by-product authorization, “meaning there is no simplified path for subsequent manufacturers to produce and enter the market”, they said. they wrote.

The three experts, who support South Africa’s campaign for a complete waiver of all intellectual property and patents on Covid drugs, said the WTO proposals must cover life-saving Covid treatments and diagnostics -19 because they are an essential part of an arsenal to prevent, treat and contain the virus.

The problems Ramaphosa faces in trying to move the WTO’s slow decision-making apparatus are compounded by the complexity of vaccine manufacturing, which relies on more than just access to patent information. He knows that taking the secrets of Covid-19 treatments off the table severely limits the ability of health systems in poorer countries to fight new outbreaks of the disease.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance adds that another EU request, that countries wishing to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines must “notify the WTO travel advice before exercising any of these rights”, amounted “to put a target on your back for pressure from nations home to big pharma”.

Why would the EU and the US play hardball? Moderna and Pfizer, which uses intellectual property from German company Biontech, will have new vaccines on the market by fall – called “bivalent” vaccines, which target Omicron as well as other previous incarnations of Covid-19.

The German company CureVac has teamed up with the British GSK to create its own version. Many other pharmaceutical companies are on the hunt.

This means that once again, there will soon be new drugs that are better for rich countries, with developing countries trailing behind – and who will continue to pay top dollar for earlier vaccines that are less suited to variants and mutations. viral.

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