Greenpeace India writes to WTO to end patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines

The letter comes ahead of the WTO TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council meet from June 8-9.
For representational purposes (Photo | PTI)
For representational purposes (Photo | PTI)

NEW DELHI: Greenpeace India on Monday urged the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines, saying equity and access gaps in inoculation rates of rich and poor countries is costing lives.

In an open letter to the WTO, it also said India is facing a massive shortage of vaccines and the WTO's decision on intellectual property and patent rights on vaccines could either strengthen the fight against the Covid pandemic or lead to a battle that cannot be won.

The letter comes ahead of the WTO TRIPs (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council meet from June 8-9.

"Nine out of 10 people in developing countries may not receive a vaccine in 2021. India is facing a massive shortage of COVID-19 vaccines necessary to tackle the pandemic. The decisions by the WTO and the member delegates will either strengthen the fight against the pandemic or condemn a large section of the world's population to fight a losing battle against it," said the Greenpeace letter addressed to WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

It also said that big pharmaceutical companies were not willing to share the science and technology to augment production of vaccines, delaying rollout in several countries.

"The unwillingness of big pharmaceutical companies to share the science and technology that is essential to ramp up production is delaying vaccine rollout in the Global South. In fact, the World Health Organisation referred to it as a 'vaccine apartheid'," the letter said.

The knowledge developed by these companies was significantly funded by public money hence, it is only logical that this knowledge is widely shared for the greater good, it said.

"This is the time to record the power of humanity, not profits. A pandemic anywhere is a pandemic everywhere," the letter said. Greenpeace India said that the letter is open for citizens to endorse.

"We urge the international community to stand with us and support India and South Africa's demand to waive intellectual property and patent rights on vaccines. This is not just a health emergency but part of the larger climate and biodiversity crisis plaguing the globe. How the world responds to this pandemic will teach us what is possible for us as humanity - can we respond as a community?" the letter said.

In October last year, India and South Africa had called for TRIPs waiver of certain intellectual property provisions of COVID-19 vaccines to the WTO.

Both the nations championed for the developing and poor countries to get access to life-saving vaccines and therapeutics as soon as possible, Greenpeace India said.

It said the global response to the "vaccine apartheid" as termed by the WHO reflects the inept nature of handling the global crisis by the countries of the world.

Greenpeace India's Senior Climate Campaigner Avinash Chanchal said that the scale and spirit of international collaboration to address this humanitarian concern is missing.

"The response seems to indicate an approach of each unto themselves and a similar attitude reflects in the nature of the response to the on-going climate crises," he said.

The WTO council meeting on vaccine equity is a global moment for nations also to signal their willingness to be part of journeys towards greater justice and cooperation between the Global North and South, Chanchal said.

"The pandemic is not a singular event and needs to be seen as a part of many such moments of crisis that could indicate the nature of the evolving climate crisis as we struggle to stay below 1.5 degrees. The pandemic has offered an opportunity to reimagine our food systems, cities, mobility and access to basic facilities," he said.

Chanchal added that the vaccine crisis is not unique to India alone and many other countries like Nepal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Argentina are facing similar challenges.

"These countries are equally vulnerable to climate change. The act of the multilateral organisations and leaders of nations now during this global crisis, be it with solidarity or insularity will signal to the world the willingness of the richer nations to act together and support the fight on climate change.

It is a moment to build greater confidence and support to work together for a better, greener, equitable, sustainable world," he said.

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