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PM calls for dismantling of patent protections in fight against pandemic

He says this will enable the production of cheaper, generic versions of life-saving medicines for critical diseases, from Covid-19 to HIV/AIDS.

3 minute read
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Photo: Bernama
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. Photo: Bernama

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin today called on Asia to lead the way in opening up patent protections to produce cheaper, generic versions of life-saving medicines for critical diseases, from Covid-19 to HIV/AIDS.

Welcoming the support of US President Joe Biden’s administration for a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) protections for Covid-19 vaccines, he said this should give way to a total transformation of the pharmaceutical patent system.

“Pausing the gears is not enough. Our obligation is to dismantle it entirely,” he said in a video address to Nikkei’s Future of Asia conference in Tokyo today.

Muhyiddin said based on the United Nations Article 25(1) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was high time for these innovations including drugs, vaccines and medical devices to be brought out of the purview of individual patent rights and for global property rights to be created instead.

For Asia to effectively prevent and fight pandemics, he said, it needs to shift from a purely nationalistic approach to health services to investing in health as a global public good.

“Treating health infrastructure as a global public good would mean Asia as a whole treats health the way many individual countries treat their education, security, the environment. In essence, as a critical piece of the global commons supported by a collective investment, for the benefit of all,” he said.

Stressing that Covid-19 infections must be suppressed as quickly as possible to prevent mutating variants that make current vaccines obsolete, the prime minister however noted that there were man-made hurdles to this effort.

“For instance, the wealthiest 27 countries have 35.5% of the vaccines, although they only cover 10.5% of the world’s population. These countries have more than enough vaccine doses to immunise people beyond their own populations,” he said.

Muhyiddin said 20% or 252 million out of 1.23 billion doses administered across 174 countries so far were taken up by the US alone.

In terms of production, he said, China and India have exported around 200 million and 66 million vaccine doses, approximately 48% and 34% of their total production respectively.

“In comparison, the US and UK have only exported three million and one million of their vaccine doses respectively, or a mere 1.1% and 4% of their total production respectively,” he said.

Muhyiddin also said the failure of the global leadership to address the Covid-19 pandemic was due to human biases such as tribalism, dysfunctional competition and short-term thinking.

“Of course, it is unrealistic to expect nations not to compete, or for them to forgo building their self-interests, but we must also realise that long-term victory often doesn’t mean pushing your country ahead of the line all the time, every time.

“Certainly one posits that, in the post-Covid-19 world, it will be the countries who are most generous, who build bridges rather than walls and who bring their neighbours together rather than drive them away, who will be successful,” he added.

He said success depends on whether Asian regional institutions can strengthen themselves with more robust conflict management mechanisms and move towards a flexible view of state sovereignty.

He said by demonstrating the ability to share leadership with the region’s weaker states in managing its security and economic conflicts, Asia’s emerging powers could gain global credibility and trust, and could facilitate a substantive contribution to global governance from a position of leadership and strength.

Muhyiddin said Malaysia also pledged its efforts to break the bonds of pandemic misery, to cut the chains of poverty and for relief of people affected by tyranny.

“We have to help in every way we can, not because we want their commerce, not because we seek to extend our geo-political influences, but because it is the right moral thing to do,” he said.