South Africa’s Ramaphosa reiterates call for COVID-19 patent waiver

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a televised speech in Pretoria, South Africa, April 9, 2020. (Xinhua)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reiterated his call for a temporary waiver on patent protections on COVID-19 diagnostics, medicines and vaccines as the world continues battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Ramaphosa, a leading advocate of the waiver, made the appeal during a session of the 74th World Health Assembly on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath)

Ramaphosa pointed out that millions of people in wealthier nations had been vaccinated while billions of people in poorer countries were still waiting and, as such, remained vulnerable to infection. He further urged world leaders to bridge the “huge divide” as a result of this situation.

“We must increase vaccine production, including in low and middle-income countries. Among other things, we need all countries to support the call for a limited waiver and intellectual property rights as a mechanism to promote rapid, equitable access,” Ramaphosa said.

“This pandemic has made us more aware of our strengths and our vulnerabilities. It has also demonstrated how interconnected we are and how dependent we are on each other for our health as well as our wellbeing,” he added.

South Africa along with India and many other developing countries have been calling for a temporary waiver of patents for COVID-19 vaccines, in the hope that it would improve production and allow a fairer distribution of vaccines globally.

Their calls have been opposed by richer developed countries in Europe, where many pharmaceutical companies are based. However, the U.S. recently reversed its position and threw its support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.

Last week, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala argued in favor of expanding COVID-19 vaccine production and ending export restrictions, saying a patent waiver would not be enough.

In April, the World Health Organization said that of 700 million vaccines globally administered, only 0.2 percent had been in low-income countries.

Ramaphosa also called for nations to build stronger pandemic response systems and focus on establishing a global health council which will cooperate with the WHO to support regional and national response mechanisms.

“At this year World Health Assembly, we are urged to end this pandemic, prevent the next one and build a healthier, safer and fairer world. This has to be our agenda.”