Elita Chikwati Senior Reporter
Zimbabwe has joined South Africa, India and other countries in sponsoring the proposed waiver from certain provisions of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of Covid-19.
The waiver is aimed at fast-tracking local production to ensure equitable distribution and easy accessibility of vaccine and other medicines as efforts to curb the Covid-19 virus intensify.
The TRIPS waiver will ensure World Trade Organisation (WTO) members and in particular developing countries are able to promptly respond to the Covid-19 pandemic by ensuring that intellectual property (IP) rights do not impede access to diagnostics, medicines, vaccines and other medical technologies required to contain Covid-19.
Addressing IP barriers is central to countries’ ability to manufacture, import and export Covid-19 medical products while TRIPS flexibilities play an important role in promoting access, in the current context of a pandemic and global demand, simply relying on such flexibilities to overcome IP barriers would be insufficient.
In his presentation to the WTO TRIPS Council on Tuesday, Zimbabwe acting Ambassador to Switzerland Mr Tapiwa Chigiji said the country decided to join South Africa and India in calling for the proposed TRIPs Waiver.
“The delegation believes in the basic principle that IP protection should be a force for development and human progress, and should not be seen as an end in itself,” he said.
“In this context, and as explained by other delegations before us, the proposed TRIPS Waiver will serve all of us, all people across the world, to fast track local production and equitable distribution, as well as ensure timely and affordable access to vaccines and other medicines, all in a concerted global effort to end this pandemic.
“My delegation attaches great importance to the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, but we also recognise that this must be counter-balanced with the attainment of the greater public good.”
Mr Chigiji said the present TRIPS flexibilities contained in Articles 31 were never intended to cater for a global pandemic of the high magnitude, but were applied at a national level, and on a case by case basis.
“The challenges of implementing the compulsory licence system have been well documented and discussed in previous sessions of the TRIPS Council,” he said.
“Similarly, the voluntary licence system is opaque: it is fraught with secrecy, and relies on the benevolence of patent and other IP holders.
“We commend efforts by other international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), ACT Accelerator, COVAX Facility and COVAX AMC. In this context we believe that the TRIPS Waiver proposal will complement these efforts, and also serve to off-set some of the challenges faced by these various mechanisms in responding adequately, effectively and timely to this global health emergency.
“While commendable, we believe that initiatives in other organisations cannot be used as a barrier or excuse for the WTO and its Members to refrain from taking necessary actions to save life and livelihoods in all our countries.”
Mr Chigiji said this was not the first time that a waiver had been invoked for health purposes.
“At the Doha Ministerial meeting, under the stewardship of the Zimbabwe Permanent Representative, Ambassador Chidyausiku who was the TRIPS Council Chair, the Members issued the Declaration on the TRIPS agreement and public health,” he said.
“Subsequently in 2003, Members came together and agreed on the waiver related to Paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration. Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG-3) related to good health and well-being behoves upon us to rise to our collective responsibilities, and agree to this proposal to save life and livelihoods everywhere, and not leave anyone behind.
“We are grateful to South Africa and India for initiating this important proposal, which we are very pleased to support as a co-sponsor. We call on the early adoption of this Waiver to save lives in all countries in the world.”