Intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines should not override governments obligations to protect a right to healthcare.
This is according to Deputy International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) Minister Candith Mashego-Dlamini.
She and Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel jointly briefed their respective parliamentary committees on the current negotiations to waive intellectual property (IP) rights for the vaccines at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Mashego-Dlamini said not all countries could produce all vaccines by themselves, and no single country could sustainably supply the whole world with their existing manufacturing capacity.
“All efforts to prevent, treat and contain Covid-19 must be based on the bedrock of human-rights principles of international solidarity, cooperation and assistance.
“There is no room for nationalism or profitability in decision-making about access to vaccines, essential tests and treatments, and all other medical goods, services and supplies that are at the heart of the right to the highest attainable standard of health for all,” she said.
South Africa and India have been at the forefront of the fight to have intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines waived so that developing countries can access them more quickly.
During recent talks in the World Trade Organisation’s general council, its highest decision-making body, the European Union (EU) indicated it was willing to join the US to move towards the TRIPS waiver, while New Zealand explicitly said it, too, was ready to move to text-based negotiations on the matter.
The US government also pledged its support for the waiver.
Meanwhile, Mashego-Dlamini said a temporary waiver would allow countries and manufacturers to directly access and share technologies to procure vaccines and therapeutics.
This would also increase the production of Covid-19 health products, lower prices and expedite the distribution, she said.
“It will ensure the stronger measures for the transfer of knowledge, skills, capacity building, and technology transfer, to achieve these outcomes.
“This waiver will hold developed countries to account for the fair and equal sharing and access to technology and treatment, which currently takes place on a voluntary basis.
“It may open opportunities for international corporations to invest in developing countries to build infrastructure, manufacturing capacities, and create a network of manufacturing, distribution, storage, transportation facilities; which would create opportunities for employment creation, and economic investments into these countries,” she said.
Mashego-Dlamini said one of their main priorities was to garner more co-sponsors to support the waiver, in order to apply political pressure at the WTO.
“The African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) and members of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) have not yet signed onto the waiver proposal. South Africa continues to use its bilateral Missions to target individual members in these groupings and conduct outreach at the highest political level,” she said.