Ramaphosa: WTO has central role in addressing IP related barriers to vaccine production

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A batch of COVID-19 vaccines arrive at the official launch of the mass vaccine roll-out programme at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital on February 18, 2021 in Durban South Africa. /Getty Images
A batch of COVID-19 vaccines arrive at the official launch of the mass vaccine roll-out programme at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital on February 18, 2021 in Durban South Africa. /Getty Images

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has a central role on addressing trade and intellectual property-related barriers to boost and diversify production of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, according to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa made the remarks on Tuesday at the virtual opening session of the 2021 WTO Public Forum.

“The rapid and equitable roll-out of life-saving medical products is the best response to the virus and the best stimulus plan for a strong, sustained and even economic recovery,” he said.

Ramaphosa has been at the forefront in calling for a landmark waiver on intellectual property (IP) to enable countries to produce COVID-19 vaccines and drugs on a larger scale, at lower prices.

The waiver would apply to certain IP on COVID-19 medical tools and technologies until herd immunity is reached.

Currently, lower-income nations are struggling to obtain adequate vaccine doses for their populations, leading to an ununified fight against the pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this year set a target of ensuring every country worldwide vaccinates at least 10 percent of their populations by the end of September.

According to the WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom, almost 90% of wealthier countries have already reached that target, but some 50 countries will not get there, mostly in Africa.

Adhanom acknowledged that global production has been scaling up and it is estimated that there is enough supply, but the world had failed to provide equitable access.

In his address on Tuesday, President Ramaphosa noted that less than 2 percent of adults are fully vaccinated in most low-income countries, compared to almost 60 percent in high-income countries.

“This gross inequality is both unjust and counterproductive,” he said.

“The longer it takes to vaccinate the world’s population, the greater the loss of life, the likelier the emergence of new variants, and the longer it will take to achieve sufficient population immunity.”

The WTO Public Forum is an annual event that brings together governments, business leaders, academic experts and civil society.

Themed “Trade Beyond COVID-19: Building Resilience,” this year’s forum will look at the effects of the COVID-9 pandemic on trade and how the multilateral trading system can help build resilience to COVID-19 and future crises.

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