Human rights and health groups have urged the Australian government to back a full waiver of intellectual property rules around Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments after labelling a leaked global agreement “limited and flawed”.
The waiving of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPs) rules was first proposed by India and South Africa more than 18 months ago, and has been backed by a wide range of human rights and health organisations around the world.
It also has the support of more than 100 WTO member countries, with more than 60 nations co-sponsoring the proposal.
The TRIPS waiver would allow for the sharing of Covid-19 vaccine, tests and treatment without the consent of the IP holder in order to increase availability and affordability for developing countries. The IP waiver has been opposed primarily by the European Union, while the US has supported it only for vaccines.
The Australian government has signaled its support for the waiver but has declined to co-sponsor it, saying it is instead working to reach a compromise on the issue.
A leaked document has this week revealed that a compromise had been reached between the EU, US, South Africa and India, with some IP laws to be waived for Covid-19 vaccines, but not for tests or treatments.
The waiving of IP around Covid tests and treatments will be considered by the parties in six months, according to the leaked agreement.
The deal still needs to be approved by the WTO’s Intellectual Property Rights Council and the WTO General Council.
The agreement has been welcomed as a small but positive step forward by a range of Australian organisations campaigning for the waiver.
“We welcome the admission that WTO rules need to change,” Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network convener Dr Patricia Ranald said.
“But these are baby steps which still protect the interests of pharmaceutical companies rather than saving lives. Three million people have died since the Omicron variant, and millions more will die unless the Australian and other governments insist on a full waiver for vaccines, tests and treatment.”
Public Health Association of Australia spokesperson associate professor Deborah Gleeson said the proposal is not good enough.
“The proposed compromise is so limited and flawed that it risks being completely unworkable,” Professor Gleeson said.
“To get the pandemic under control, we need a waiver of monopoly rights that can be used by any country, for any health products and technology and for all types of intellectual property that can prevent access. It’s well past time to get this right.”
These organisations will now write to the Australian government urging it to push for the inclusion of treatments and tests along with the vaccines in the IP waiver.
They also want the waiver to apply to all knowledge and transfer rather than just IP in order to increase the local production of vaccines in developing nations.
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