A local researcher and campaigner has defended companies opposed to the proposal that intellectual property rights related to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments be suspended.
Ndlovu Care Group CEO Hugo Tempelman has defended companies opposed to the proposal by South Africa and India last year for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend intellectual property (IP) rights related to Covid-19 research and products.
Also Read: EFF accuses government of misleading citizens on J&J vaccine trial
This proposal was made to ensure equitable access to and affordability of Covid-19 vaccines ,medicines and other innovations to control the pandemic. It was later supported by the African Union and Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
But Tempelman suggested South Africa had already laid the groundwork for private/public initiatives to make emergency medicines available through its anti-retroviral roll-out programme, the largest in the world.
“What happened in the early 2000s is there was a little group in South Africa consisting of Mark Heywood, Zackie Achmat and myself… It was a think tank for the TAC (Treatment Action Campaign). We approached the pharmaceutical industries and said if you want to apply the same rules in the developed world as in Africa, then it is going to suffocate from Aids,” Tempelman said.
Also Read: SA sells the soon-to-expire 1 million AstraZeneca jabs to the AU
This led to the group negotiating a deal wherein a local producer can licence products on a generic basis and produce it strictly for use in lower- to middle-income countries.
“And so it came to a situation that the same cocktail of drugs in the Netherlands cost €800 (R14,500) and in South Africa it costs about R800,” he explains.
Ndlovu Care Group has been involved in early and ongoing HIV/Aids treatment research, as well as Covid-19 vaccine research recently with Johnson & Johnson.
The agreement between Aspen Pharmacare and Johnson & Johnson, which will see 300 million doses of the latter’s vaccines manufactured in South Africa annually, is a sign of good things to come for the affordability of and access to Covid-19 vaccines in poorer markets.
Corporations could be compelled to show compassion by entering into agreements to outsource the manufacture of their patented products to companies in lower or middle income countries. While still protected by the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips), companies could afford to reduce make their margins, to recover research and development costs plus make profits in higher income countries and still contribute to equitable access in the developing world.
Also Read: AU secures additional 400 million vaccine doses
“The WTO agreement is made to protect intellectual property in all its aspects and that is why I think it’s a good thing, otherwise nobody will invent anything any more because it can be copied. It definitely has its merits. And every country that has undersigned it is also obliged to adhere to those rules,” he said.
The landmark proposal at the WTO last year would allow countries to choose not to apply or enforce certain types of IP on Covid-19 medical tools during the pandemic. It has garnered the support of several international organisations including the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS), Unitaid and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi).
Also Read: SA running ahead of schedule in Covid-19 vaccine rollout
Supporting the proposal in a statement last week, MSF urged that ensuring access to equitable and affordable medical tools to fight Covid-19 could no longer simply be left to corporations who continue to follow the usual approach of profit maximisation. It called for governments to act to reach consensus on the proposal.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.