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The Barriers Against Affordable Medicines and Vaccines: Wealthy Countries Block COVID-19 Drugs Rights Waiver at WTO

In a fair world, everyone would unit in the face of a mutual deadly enemy. Once found, the solution would be shared with everyone, rich or poor, young or old. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a fair one. We live in the real world where a pandemic kills more than one million of its population, and the rich are only concerned with getting richer. Thus, rich countries are blocking COVID-19 drug rights waiver at the World Trade Organization’s (WTO).

Profits Versus Life

Though intellectual property rules usually make sense, they need to make an exception and improve drug access for poorer countries, especially during a global pandemic. The supporters of the waiver argue that existing intellectual property rules create barriers to access to affordable medicines and vaccines. Moreover, just like during the AIDS epidemic, easing such restrictions will help save the world a lot of misery. Therefore, next month, on the next World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Council, supporters of the waiver were hoping to plead their case and ease up some of the restrictions.

However, recent events are proving that life doesn’t mean that much for those in power.
On Friday, many of the UN’s wealthy nations reiterated their opposition to a proposal to waive intellectual property rules for COVID-19 drugs.

“If rich countries prefer profits to lives, they will kill it by tying it down in technicalities,” stated a delegate supporting the motion who also attended the closed-door meeting.

The proposal

India and South Africa first mentioned this proposal back in October. Later, China, a country with five COVID-19 vaccine candidates in late-stage trials, pitched in its support. The proposal also gained the support of dozens of other WTO members, though mostly from developing countries. Moreover, both The World Health Organization, as well as Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the selected WTO’s next director-general, support this proposal.

On the other hand, the European Union, the United States, along with some other wealthy nations, have voiced their opposition to the waiver proposal. Thus, their opposition is setting up the proposal for failure even before the official council meeting. Furthermore, according to a second trade source, some developing countries are denying the importance of the waiver while stating that it “was not only unnecessary but would also undermine the collaborative efforts to fight the pandemic that is already underway”. However, neither one of the US and the EU Diplomatic missions have immediately provided a comment.

Actions outside the global trade body

Despite the official’s opposition, lobbying in support of the waiver has increased in many first-world countries. Only this week, the EU lawmakers received more than 100 civil society organizations letters, urging them to reconsider. Additionally, Yuan Qiong Hu, the French medical charity MSF’s (Doctors Without Borders or Medecins Sans Frontieres) senior legal and policy officer, announced that the US pharmaceutical firms’ data adds to the urgency of the waiver proposal. “There is a hierarchical model and the poorer countries are being asked to take the leftovers,” she said.

Rich countries ‘snap up’ Covid vaccines

Even without all the barriers, data proves that rich countries will be the first to snap up most of the available vaccines. The Duke Global Health Innovation Center released an analysis stating that richer countries have already purchased nearly 3.8 billion doses, with options for another five billion.

Moreover, Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, the founding director of the Center, fears that it could be two to four years before vaccines reach the poorest countries. Thus, this leaves the rest of the world vulnerable in the face of a deadly virus for the time being.


Al Jazeera. (2020, November 20). Rich countries block COVID-19 drugs rights waiver at WTO. United States News | Al Jazeera., E. (2020, November 20). Wealthy countries block COVID-19 drugs rights waiver at WTO – sources. U.S., B. M. (2020, November 20). Rich Countries Block COVID-19 Drugs Rights Waiver At WTO. Ethical Editor. countries “snap up” Covid vaccines. (2020, November 2). BBC.