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South Africa protests urge US, EU to move forward with TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines and medical tools

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South Africa protests urge US, EU to move forward with TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines and medical tools

The United States has taken an important and bold decision to support this groundbreaking TRIPS waiver, but is now largely absent from the global effort to make it a reality.

GENEVA, Switzerland, October 13, 2021 / APO Group / –

As governments prepare to discuss the TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO) this week, Médecins Sans Frontières / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) joined activists and civil society organizations to protest today outside the embassies of the United States, Belgium and the Netherlands in Tshwane, the executive capital of South Africa. Protesters are calling on these governments to break the deadlock and speed up negotiations on the TRIPS waiver – a temporary waiver on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) – to be adopted at the meeting. the next WTO ministerial conference at the end of November. This waiver would suspend patents and other intellectual property rights over urgently needed COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, tests and other medical tools during the duration of the pandemic. The groups also urged the United States, which issued a statement of support for the TRIPS waiver in early May, to play a more active role in finalizing the deal. “The United States has taken an important and bold decision to support this revolutionary exemption from TRIPS, but is now largely absent from the global effort to make it a reality,” said Avril Benoît, executive director of MSF-USA. “This is a historic opportunity and the United States must take a leadership role. While the United States now has many tools to fight COVID-19, people in many low- and middle-income countries are still suffering and dying without vaccines, tests, or treatments. We do not have time to lose. The United States must keep its promise and ensure that the TRIPS waiver is adopted. “

The historic TRIPS waiver proposal was originally presented by India and South Africa a year ago and is now officially supported by 64 sponsoring governments, with over 100 countries supporting globally. However, despite dozens of supporting government statements stressing the urgency and importance of the waiver, the proposal was effectively blocked by a small number of opposing governments, many of them in the European Union, mainly Belgium, the Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands. , and Sweden, as well as Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. “We gathered outside the Belgian and Dutch embassies to send a clear message to EU countries to stop blocking this critical waiver and multinational pharmaceutical companies no longer making a profit on lives. human rights, ”said Candice Sehoma, advocacy manager in South Africa for MSF’s access campaign. . “Even though France, Greece, Italy and Spain have already spoken out in favor of the waiver, another handful of EU governments with close ties to pharmaceutical companies are choosing to push the interests of shareholders before the lives of people around the world. We call on the united EU countries to show real leadership and convince their neighbors to do what it takes for the EU as a whole to finally align and support the TRIPS waiver. The world continues to witness global inequality in access to COVID-19 medical tools with high-income countries like the United States stockpiling and accumulating treatments and vaccines instead of allowing the necessary equitable distribution to end this pandemic. The United States recently booked 1.7 million treatments for molnupiravir, a promising treatment for COVID-19, which, if approved, could be essential in reducing hospitalizations and deaths. The case of molnupiravir illustrates why the TRIPS waiver is so desperately needed; While the US government funded Emory University’s development of the drug, drug companies Ridgeback and Merck obtained the licenses and rights to the drug. Instead of offering licenses broadly to all relevant manufacturers in different countries, a voluntary license signed in April 2021 only includes Indian generic manufacturers and prevents countries like Brazil from being able to produce and import API (material first) and generic versions. “We have been saying since the start of this pandemic that governments cannot rely on voluntary measures from pharmaceutical companies, and the example of molnupiravir is a good example,” said Felipe Carvalho, coordinator of the MSF Access campaign in Brazil. . “We cannot be proud of a voluntary license from Merck that deliberately prevents many middle-income countries from producing and supplying this drug on their own. It is clear that unless legal tools such as the TRIPS waiver are adopted, many countries will continue to be at the mercy of the patent-holding companies who have a say in who can produce, who can buy and at what cost, while health ministries are already reeling from the rising costs of the fight against COVID-19. We say to the remaining blocking governments: The eyes of the world are really only on you now, so you should be thinking about which side of the story you want to be when the books on this pandemic are written. “

To end this pandemic for everyone, the United States must also redistribute its excess vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries through the COVAX facility and regional supply mechanisms, as well as demand that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna share COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology. and know-how so that other capable manufacturers can manufacture additional mRNA vaccines and meet global needs.

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