Africa: Developing Nations Demand Equal Access to Vaccines

South Africa, India, and more than 100 other nations have called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive patents for COVID-19 vaccines, saying they are being prevented from immunising their people.

The two countries first made the appeal in October last year, calling on the WTO to waive provisions in a trade agreement governing intellectual property rights so medical products can be more easily accessed by developing nations. More than 100 nations have since joined the calls.

Endorsing requests for a waiver, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this month: “If a temporary waiver to patents cannot be issued now, during these unprecedented times, when will be the right time?”

At the core of the discussion stands a proposal submitted in October by South Africa and India to suspend the WTO’s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

The goal is to facilitate the transfer of technology and scientific knowledge to developing countries to ramp up the global production of vaccines and other necessary equipment.

Last month, more than 400 organisations in the United States joined forces calling on President Joe Biden to endorse the waiver, while 115 members of the European Commission issued a declaration urging the European Union to drop its opposition to the temporary suspension.

The African Union also backed the relaxing of rules on intellectual property (IP), calling it a “win-win for everybody”.