By GCAP Asia Coordinator Pradeep Baisakh
The Peoples Vaccine Alliance (PVA) in Asia is calling on Japan, Singapore and South Korea to take action on the voices of citizens across Asia and the global South by supporting the ‘temporary TRIPS Waiver’ proposal at the WTO’s general council meeting on 30th April, 2021, and ensuring big pharmaceutical companies and rich country governments voluntarily join the WHO-led COVID-19 Technology Access Pool.
The appeal letter to Asian governments comes from 100 organizations including ActionAid, APCASO, Asia Dalit Rights Forum, Asia Pacific Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development (APMDD), Global Call to Action Against Poverty -Asia (GCAP-Asia), Oxfam International, South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication, Fight Inequality Alliance India and 50 prominent individuals.
Compared to the terrifying speed at which the virus is spreading and mutating, as we are witnessing in India, scaling up global COVID-19 vaccine access and inoculation has been painfully slow.
Most of the world’s population, especially in middle- and lower-income countries, lack access to the vaccine. At the speed at which vaccination is proceeding, it will take decades to vaccinate all who need it.
The intellectual property over COVID-19 vaccines is owned by big pharmaceutical corporations who are refusing to share the science and technology required to speed up mass production and distribution for the entire planet.
“No single corporation will ever be able to produce enough vaccine doses quickly for everyone who needs it. If history has taught us anything, it is that pharmaceutical corporations create and protect monopolies in order to maximise profits instead of improving public health. We have seen this in the past with vital medicines for illnesses like HIV or cancer that have been priced far too high, out of reach for most people”, said Karyn Kaplan of Asia Catalyst.
A temporary waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, proposed by South Africa and India and supported by more than 100 WTO member states and numerous health experts worldwide, is a vital, necessary and urgent step to bring an end to this pandemic.
A waiver of WTO TRIPS rules must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly. This can be achieved through the World Health Organization COVID-19 Technology Access Pool. These actions would expand global manufacturing capacity, unhindered by industry monopolies that are driving the dire supply shortages blocking vaccine access.
“When the pharmacy of the world is gasping for breath, keeping a monopoly over vaccine science for the sake of profit is immoral, self-defeating, and a collective failure”, said Mustafa Talpur, campaign and advocacy manager of Oxfam International in Asia.
All these roadblocks to control COVID-19 spread are surmountable. The Asia region has a world-class generic pharmaceutical industry. With a little more shared technology and know-how, Asia-based companies can quickly support new manufacturing capacity in other countries, thereby reducing the negative impacts of COVID and improving response capacity for future pandemics. Countries in Asia, including China, India, Thailand, and others have demonstrated capacity to produce vaccines.
“Vaccine equity will directly improve health outcomes, as no one is safe until everyone is safe. It is key to the enjoyment of human rights and is equally vital to a comprehensive economic rebuilding out of inequality, poverty and hunger. There is no time to lose! This is an urgent call for a solidaristic, humanitarian and accountable response to save millions of Asian people and their futures”, said Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director of ActionAid Association India.