“DON’T waver on the waiver.”
A health advocacy organization asked the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to back the measure waiving the intellectual property (IP) rights protection of Covid-19 vaccines, treatment and technology amid the pandemic.
Coalition for People’s Rights to Health (CPRH) made its stance known through a protest held in front of the DTI building in Makati on Wednesday morning.
The group stressed the need to scrap the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to promote equal access for Covid-19 vaccines—a much-needed shot to end the pandemic.
“The Philippine government’s support to the TRIPS Waiver is a first step in attaining a greater sense of equity in health beyond vaccination,” CPRH Co-Convenor Joshua San Pedro said. The group’s call is also supported by Bantay Bakuna, Council for Health and Development and other organizations.
The TRIPS Agreement is a multilateral accord on IP covering copyright and related rights, trademarks, geographical indications, industrial designs and patents, among others.
The agreement, which took effect on January 1, 1995, sets the minimum standards of IP protection, enumerates enforcement procedures and covers dispute settlement.
San Pedro said that “corporate interest and profits,” which are “protected” under TRIPS agreement, prevent countries from achieving health equity.
“The development of vaccines, medicines, and diagnostic tools are still determined by market viability instead of fulfilling the people’s right to health,” he said.
“In fact, reports have shown that at least 9 new billionaires have garnered riches from vaccine production, despite also being actually funded by taxpayers’ money.”
“Under TRIPS, this ‘right’ to profit will be protected for at least 20 years,” he added.
San Pedro stressed that the government should “choose people’s health over condoning monopoly and profits in a pandemic.”
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, in a message to the BusinessMirror, said that the DTI supports the temporary waiver of TRIPS agreement “in principle” and is ready to engage in text-based discussions regarding the proposal.
“WE have taken note also of the resolution from the Senate urging the Executive branch to support the proposal while mindful of the importance of protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights,” he said.
Last month, the Senate adopted a resolution urging the Executive department to support the IP waiver on Covid-19 vaccines.
“Given that there are many proposals tabled before the WTO involving public health concerns, it is our view that we engage first on the discussions to clarify issues and implementation elements,” he added.
Apart from CPRH and other advocacy groups, over 100 countries have previously supported the proposal as it is seen to allow quicker mass production of the Covid-19 doses, instead of securing voluntary licensing.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, said earlier that IP holders could put in place some restrictions preventing the grant of voluntary license.
In securing a voluntary license, the patent holder grants a generic company permission to produce the patented article subject to terms and conditions.
The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), however, earlier said that voluntary licensing is still the preferred choice because it ensures the quality of the Covid-19 doses being manufactured.
Voluntary licensing, PHAP said, includes “the safeguard of voluntary technology transfer include know-how transfer, sharing of expertise, and joint training of skilled workers with the shared objective of developing and manufacturing quality and safe Covid-19 vaccine.”
South Africa and India earlier submitted the IP waiver proposal to the WTO requesting to remove the copy right, industrial designs, patents and undisclosed information under the TRIPS agreement until majority of the world population has immunity.
Image credits: AP/Hans Pennink