WTO Patents Decision: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for Health Equity, says AHF

Los Angeles–(work wireThe AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) today expressed disappointment with the decision of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, which fundamentally failed to address intellectual property rights obstacles to accessing a COVID-19 vaccine in developing countries. What some rich countries heralded as a unilateral compromise may indeed prove to be a smokescreen for the lack of political will to address global health inequalities after two years of fruitless talks.

“We commend Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iwela’s tireless efforts to find a workable compromise on patents – she has kept this vital issue high on the WTO’s agenda, despite many competing priorities. Unfortunately, what ministers decided at the World Trade Organization Finally, it is a far cry from the original proposal by India and South Africa, which sought to rapidly expand public production of COVID-19 vaccines.” “Apart from some complex and elaborate ministerial decision exceptions — for which you would be eligible or risk being invoked — the disparity in global health equity will remain fundamentally unchanged thanks to pharmaceutical patent monopolies.”

Countries affected by the lack of vaccines, diagnoses, and treatments for COVID-19 will be hard-pressed to implement the decision’s provisions in the real world. First, the decision failed to address the larger challenge of producing generic vaccines — the lack of access to knowledge, such as custom proteins, cell cultures, and the nanotechnology needed to create them.

These ingredients are trade secrets kept by pharmaceutical companies, without which a new generation of highly effective biosimilar vaccines cannot be produced in a reasonable period of time, even if one has a theoretical scheme from a patent. The scope of the ministerial decision focused entirely on patents; Hence, technology transfers were removed from it.

In addition, eligible countries may invoke the provisions of the decision only for a period of five years, and it applies only to vaccine patents, although the need for treatment at this stage of the pandemic may become more significant.

The decision states that within six months, WTO members will consider expanding the policy to include diagnosis and treatment. However, the eligibility criteria themselves limit the practical usefulness of the decision to developing countries, many of which lack the capacity to produce the domestic vaccine on a large scale.

Some critics of the decision have argued that it is in fact a step back from the prevailing status quo that surrounds TRIPS flexibility because it introduced a slew of subtle criteria and limitations that might set an unfavorable precedent for the spirit of TRIPS – ie: giving states the right and legal protection to ignore patents during emergencies in favor of Public Health.

After a long struggle in the WTO, one thing is clear – the call to prioritize people’s lives over corporate profits is far from over for civil society and concerned citizens around the world.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS non-profit organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to more than 1.6 million clients in 45 countries worldwide in the United States, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, Asia/Pacific, and Europe. To learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org, follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth and follow us on Twitter: Tweet embed And Instagram: aidshealthcare

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