To promote equal vaccine access in PH & poor countries, waive intellectual property rights

AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People is one with the health sector and the general public in promoting vaccines as part of an effective technological response to the pandemic.

We strongly agree that a waiver of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on COVID-19 vaccine patents is imperative.

It is every country’s moral responsibility to ensure that the most marginalized members of our communities ought to have the same access compared to those who control the technologies, resources, and human labor that produce technological breakthroughs like vaccines.

The said call is in line with the global clamor of at least 60 countries demanding that certain TRIPS provisions are waived to allow poor countries to have equal access to the vaccines developed by big pharmaceutical companies of rich nations.

Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels.com

The TRIPS Council convened this year to tackle the waiver among World trade Organization (WTO) members, specifically the provision on the “prevention, containment or treatment” of COVID-19 [1].

Supporters of the waiver are also pursuing circumvention of barriers that prevent open access to medical products—including vaccines and medicines—and also in facilitating scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing, and supply of essential medical products.

This COVID-19 vaccine impasse is being framed as a trade roadblock for the protection of the intellectual property rights of knowledge-based economies. This is replete with moral bankruptcy. Under the global capitalist system, with its profit-driven orientation over people’s health and welfare, we are witnessing the irony of lauding the unprecedented speed of the development of a working vaccine by science workers while, at the same time, preventing the access of the masses to it. The world must not put profit first over people.

The COVID-19 crisis exposed what is rotten in capitalist society. The TRIPS Agreement is just one tool by capitalist countries to exploit and profit from the knowledge and labor of science workers. This setup only benefits those who control technologies that are crucial to the survival of the majority. The COVID-19 vaccines already made billionaires out of a few capitalists, a slap on the face of those tens of millions who have lost their loved ones and billions who have lost their livelihoods because of the pandemic.

The Philippine government should join the throng of countries like India and South Africa as well as people’s organizations in making vaccines available for everyone, especially the marginalized.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

By lifting the TRIPS Agreement restrictions, more countries and pharmaceutical companies can help accelerate the production of COVID-19 vaccines.

In pushing for vaccines as a critical solution to the crisis, the Duterte government should strongly call for implementing a waiver of the TRIPS Agreement protection of COVID-19 vaccine patents.

This is also an opportune time for this government to bring into their core policy and program the development of the country’s health science that would address emerging infectious diseases. This means that we have to be equipped with the needed facilities and infrastructures as well as other material and human resources. The establishment of a Virology Institute is a welcome step towards local vaccine development. [2] 

More importantly, what the government should do is to disengage the country from globalization policies that make goods and services a lucrative business enterprise especially in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our own science and technology workforce have long been clamoring for support from the government in order to establish our own industries and thus reduce our reliance on imports. We demand that the government build on our scientific and technological capacity based on a national industrialization framework that underscores the country’s development of its own resources for the needs of the Filipino people.

Endnotes
[1] World Trade Organization, 2021 News, TRIPS Council to continue to discuss temporary IP waiver, revised proposal expected in May, URL: https://www.wto.org/english/news_e/news21_e/trip_30apr21_e.htm
[2] Relevant discussion was presented in a webinar last May 26 dubbed “TRIPS Waiver and the Philippines: A Forum on the Economic, Political, and Health Implications”, URL: https://fb.watch/5_O3EXrKRH/

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