Press release from Alliance Sud and Public Eye, 25th November 2021
The WTO Ministerial Conference, to be held in Geneva from 30 November to 3 December, will discuss the temporary waiver of intellectual property protection on vaccines, tests and anti-covid drugs. We urge the Swiss government to stop its systematic blocking at the WTO, which has been going on for over a year. For their part, we also urge pharmaceutical companies to share their know-how without restriction.
Next week, the global fight against Covid-19 will be played out in Geneva. As a fourth wave sweeps across Europe, a recent study by the People's Vaccine Alliance shows that Pfizer, Moderna and Bi-oNtech are together pocketing USD 65,000 per minute from their Messenger RNA vaccines, which were developed with generous public funding. This is even more outrageous given that a third dose of vaccine is being given widely in rich countries, while only 2% of the population in poor countries have received the first two.
It is in this context that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will hold its 12th ministerial conference in the city of Calvin, Switzerland. At the heart of the discussions: the temporary suspension of pa-tents, data protection and business secrecy on vaccines, tests and anti-covid drugs (TRIPS waiver), proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020 and supported by a hundred countries. Switzer-land remains one of the last countries to strongly oppose it. Even the United States has at least come out in favour of lifting patents on vaccines.
However, the US position remains insufficient because, while attention is now focused on vaccines, a similar scenario of inequitable access is emerging for Covid-19 treatments. Expensive, patented and produced in insufficient quantities, they are confiscated by the wealthiest countries. The current examples of the very expensive anti-inflammatory drug Actemra, produced exclusively by Roche, and Merck's antiviral drug Molnupiravir, whose access is likely to remain limited in emerging coun-tries due to restrictive trade licences, further demonstrate the need for the TRIPS waiver. Access to diagnostic tests also remains highly inequitable, further delaying global pandemic control.
It is unacceptable that Switzerland, home to pharmaceutical giants and their main umbrella organisa-tion, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), blocks the adoption of the TRIPS waiver, thereby defending the interests of its industry at the expense of the public interest. This opposition is even more irresponsible as it risks scuppering the ministerial conference and, above all, depriving billions of people of the means to fight against Covid-19. The consequence would be to prolong the pandemic even further, particularly because of the increased risk of seeing new, even more contagious variants spread. Alliance Sud and Public Eye therefore call on Switzerland to accept the TRIPS waiver. Pharmaceutical companies should share the tech-nology and know-how needed to scale up the production of vaccines, tests, and medicines against Covid-19.
Isolda Agazzi, Trade Policy Officer, Alliance Sud, [email protected], M +41 79 434 45 60
Patrick Durisch, Health Policy Expert, Public Eye, [email protected], +41 21 620 03 06