Responding to news that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will push back its deadline to reach a deal on easing intellectual property rules on Covid-19 tests and treatments to support the production of cheaper generic equivalents in developing countries, Max Lawson, Co-Chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance and Head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam, said:
“We are nearly three years into the Covid-19 pandemic. As many as seventeen million people are estimated to have died in the time that the WTO has bickered over intellectual property rules for tests and treatments. To say that more time is needed to consider the issue is utter nonsense.
“Developing countries and civil society groups had hoped that the WTO had learned from its mistakes; that the cruel injustice of vaccine apartheid would not be repeated. Even the EU has previously said it would support action on tests and treatments. But WTO members have decided to let another year pass without making any meaningful contribution to the fight against Covid-19.
“Each day of delay will push an ever-greater share of the global toll of severe illness, deaths, and economic damage onto developing countries. That should haunt the conscience of the rich country leaders and negotiators responsible for the failure to meet the deadline.”
Notes to editors
- This is a response to a text from the WTO TRIPS council: IP-C-95 I Report to the General Council.pdf
- A waiver of intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments was first proposed by India and South Africa at a WTO meeting on 15 and 16 October 2020. There have been 5,486,438 officially recorded global COVID-19 deaths between 16 Oct 2020 and 15 December 2022, according to Oxford University’s Our World In Data. A paper from the World Health Organisation (WHO) this week estimated that the true death toll was between 2.4 and 3.1 times higher than the officially reported number of COVID-19-related deaths. By that measure, there have been up to 17,007,957 COVID-related deaths in this period.
- 50 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have called on the EU to publicly and explicitly reiterate its support for a deal on intellectual property rules for COVID-19 tests and treatments: https://www.groen.be/letter_to_support_a_wide_trips_waiver
- More than 160 civil society organisations and experts have called on the WTO Director-General to step in to prevent a further delay to any deal: https://app.box.com/s/ud3za0dyceyjz16ovdfl9igl3jurv0x0
- The WTO reached a deal on vaccine intellectual property in June, pledging to agree on whether to extend the decision to cover tests and treatments within six months. The deadline is 17 December: https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/SS/directdoc.aspx?filename=q:/WT/MIN22/W15R2.pdf&Open=True
- Last week, the US called for the deadline to be pushed back: https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2022/december/us-support-extension-deadline-wto-trips-ministerial-decision-requests-usitc-investigation-provide-0
- Just one in every fifty COVID-19 tests is administered in a low or middle-income country, despite these countries accounting for 84% of the world’s population: https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/act-accelerator-facilitation-council-working-group-report-on-diagnostics-and-therapeutics
- There is very little publicly available data on access to COVID-19 treatments. However, orders of Paxlovid, the Pfizer-produced treatment with the highest recommendation from the WHO, indicate that three quarters of all orders will go to rich countries: https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/just-quarter-pfizers-covid-19-treatment-orders-will-go-developing-countries
- Dr. Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance and special envoy to WHO ACT-A, has said that “zero” doses have reached low-income countries: https://twitter.com/yodifiji/status/1595048900615864322
- Many low and middle-income countries, particularly in Latin America, are excluded from licensing agreements for generic versions of COVID-19 treatments. This means they could pay $250 for a course of treatment instead of $25/course for a generic equivalent – ten times as much: https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/just-quarter-pfizers-covid-19-treatment-orders-will-go-developing-countries
- The pharmaceutical company lobbying operation against an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments, was revealed in an investigation by Politico and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism: https://www.politico.eu/article/covid-vaccine-poor-countries-waiver-killed/