Vaccines for all, safety for all
By Rene E. Ofreneo
No one is safe unless everyone is safe. This, in gist, is the rationale behind the proposal of India, South Africa and other developing countries for a “TRIPS Waiver” under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects Intellectual Property Rights or TRIPS.
The Covid-19 pandemic has bared the global reality: the health of one depends on the health of all. This means all countries should exert efforts to attain “herd immunity” for their populations. Otherwise, the virus, which has been mutating, will continue to circulate endlessly, flaring every now and then in different parts of the world. Hence, it is critical that all countries should have access to vaccines and medical products such as test kits, protective equipment, ventilators, therapeutics and medical devices that are needed to treat, prevent and contain the virus.
The problem is that there are barriers, “intellectual barriers,” in accessing these vaccines and medical products. Under the TRIPS agreement, industrial and pharmaceutical products traded around the world are subject to the protective rules of TRIPS on patents, trade secrets, copyrights and industrial designs. TRIPS is some kind of an aberration under the WTO umbrella of trade agreements. TRIPS provides utmost “protection” to the global trade players such as the multinationals while the rest of the WTO agreements seek maximum “liberalization” of markets for goods and services.
The proposed TRIPS Waiver means exemption of developing countries from the protective rules of TRIPS. Specifically, they shall be allowed to avail themselves of TRIPS “flexibilities” such as the “compulsory licensing” or manufacture of patented vaccines and medical products as well as the right to undertake “parallel importation” of the above from another source without the consent of the patent holders—all in the name of public health.
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