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Amid Covid crisis, LatAm must not give in to pressures from Big Pharma

Covid 19 vaccines-- Shun politics, focus on mass production

Latin America – hit by a brutal Covid 19 wave – not just infections but even deaths– must resist pressure from the Big Pharma and certain advanced economies on the vaccine patent issue. Instead they must strongly support the TRIPS waiver negotiations at the WTO, experts said.

Countries in the region with vaccine manufacturing capabilities need to collaborate among themselves and with other leading developing economies having similar strengths to enhance production and distribution to boost the vaccination rate, they opined at a webinar — on ‘TRIPS Waiver: Issues and Challenges for Latin America’ — organised by Research and Information System For Developing Countries (RIS) along with South Centre.

Also read: India, South Africa challenge rich nations and big pharma at WTO over covid patents

They warned that the EU’s proposal at the WTO with an emphasis on clarifications on Compulsory Licensing provisions in the TRIPS agreement (in response to the TRIPS waiver proposal by over 60 members including India and South Africa) would delay the much needed process of discussion.

Speaking at the webinar Felipe de Carvalho, Country Advocacy Coordinator Médicos Sem Fronteiras Brasil (MSF), said strangely there was not much buy-in for the TRIPS waiver proposal initially submitted to the WTO by India and South Africa due to pressure from pharma majors and rich countries. Latin America was relying on the Covax facility for affordable access to vaccines, but the facility was unable to meet the demand, he said.

Also read: PM Modi amplifies pitch for mass production of Covid-19 vaccines at G7 summit

Negotiations with pharma companies for vaccines also proved to be tough due to the difficult conditions related to indemnifying the companies (against compensation for any adverse effects) and delays, he added. Citing support for the TRIPS waiver proposal from over 100 countries and hundreds of civil society organisations, he said this is a good opportunity for Latin American countries to get rid of pressure from Big Pharma and some rich nations.

Bhaskar Balakrishnan, Science Diplomacy Fellow, RIS, underlined the need for political will for an early conclusion of the TRIPS waiver talks as well as the requirement for alternative mechanisms to TRIPS for rewards for invention on the basis of health impact.