Missing Medicines Coalition statement on the World Trade Organisation General Council extending deadline for TRIPS Council to reach agreement on waiving patent protections for COVID-19 tests and treatments:
Rich nations have again derailed negotiations on an agreement to make COVID-19 tests and treatments accessible in the global south, despite pledging to make a decision on this by the end of 2022. This follows an agreement on COVID-19 vaccines reached in June which was criticised for its limited scope and impact.
The Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Council requested to delay the deadline to make a decision by six months on the 17th December. This week, the WTO General Council met to approve the deadline.
Meanwhile, global access to tests and treatments remains grossly unequal; for example many countries are excluded from Pfizer’s licence for the treatment Paxlovid and rich countries have secured almost three times as many courses as low- and middle-income nations.
As organisations working to ensure affordable global access to Covid-19 treatments, we remain concerned that just as the UK was central to derailing progress on a deal for vaccines, Rishi Sunak’s government has shown no sign it will act to improve access to treatments and tests. As hospital beds continue to fill with Covid patients, the UK must work to ensure that an agreement is reached as soon as possible by the end of January and that the WTO General Council urgently brings forward a hard deadline.
Stalling any agreement will cost lives and prolong the COVID-19 pandemic everywhere. Already, there have been over 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 globally since the decision on tests and treatments was pushed back to December in June this year. The UK should join India, South Africa and other nations who support an agreement on tests and treatments, and urge the U.S. to do the same.
The Biden Administration, which has been central in pushing for a deadline extension to any agreement, must also change course.
James Cole, Advocacy Manager at STOPAIDS, which chairs the coalition, said:
“By extending this deadline by six months, rich member states are counting on more treatments already being available, removing a sense of urgency and minimising the impact on Big Pharma’s profit margins.
People are dying without access to treatment right now. Pushing this decision back, after two years of these negotiations, is further proof that high income countries cannot be trusted to ensure global equitable access to life-saving health tools. They seemingly would rather big pharmaceutical companies continue to make historic profits whilst the pandemic continues to claim lives.
This immoral approach to pandemic response has been doomed from the start.”
Tim Bierley, Pharma Campaigner at Global Justice Now said:
“While the UK relies on new treatments to keep people alive and relieve the pressure that COVID-19 is still piling on hospitals, huge parts of the world continue to have zero access to these key medicines.
The UK government bears heavy blame for this. Having already pulled up the drawbridge on vaccines, it is now doing the same with life-saving treatments. The government must stop playing the role of lapdog for the pharmaceutical industry, parroting pharma lobbyists’ falsehoods, and finally do the right thing by supporting global south demands to break up COVID-19 medicines monopolies.”
- 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 and https://peoplesvaccine.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/A-fact-based-case-for-the-extension-of-the-TRIPS-COVID-19-decision.pdf
- 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/
- A draft report from the 9th December stated the Chair of the TRIPS Council purposed an extension to waiver negotiations: https://www.twn.my/title2/health.info/2022/hi221201.htm
The Missing Medicines Coalition (MMC) is an informal UK-based civil society network, hosted by STOPAIDS, that advocates for equitable and affordable access to medicines in the UK and worldwide. Members include: Oxfam GB, RESULTS UK, Global Justice Now, Médecins Sans Frontières UK, Health Poverty Action, and Just Treatment.