Sunday, February 28, 2021

PM urged to back calls to suspend global IP laws on Covid vaccines, equipment

Organisations including consumer bodies, environmentalists and religious groups say intellectual property laws contribute to the limit on number of manufacturers.

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Twenty-eight organisations are urging Putrajaya to temporarily suspend the enforcement of intellectual property laws to help make medical products such as Covid-19 vaccines available to the developing world.

In a letter to Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the groups said suspension of the IP laws would encourage more research and production of crucial medical equipment in the battle against the pandemic, including diagnostic kits, personal protective gear, medicine and vaccines.

“A major reason for the shortages of crucial Covid-19 medical products is insufficient production capacity, and intellectual property is a big factor because of the monopolies created that end up limiting the number of manufacturers,” said Consumers Association of Penang president Mohideen Abdul Kader, in a statement endorsed by more than 20 consumer bodies, environmentalists, support groups and religious organisations.

Last year, India and South Africa mooted a proposal to the World Trade Organization to temporarily suspend some parts of its Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The move has since obtained support from some 100 developing and less wealthy nations as well as from eminent individuals.

This comes amid a growing trend of what is called “vaccine nationalism” where governments, mostly from the developed world, hoard vaccines for their own populations.

Last week, the European Union slapped export controls on vaccines produced in the bloc after blaming its slow vaccination process on an under-supply for member-states.

The World Health Organization has condemned the restrictions on vaccines especially to poorer countries.

“I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last month.

The 28 groups in their statement said that Malaysia was not in a favourable position as its vaccine supply depends totally on imports.

“The ongoing vaccine scramble and potential future conflicts over medicines that can treat Covid-19 and even PPE show the urgent need for the TRIPS Waiver to overcome the problems of shortages and to ramp up production across countries to provide medical products equitably to small and big countries,” they added.

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