Compulsory licenses, the TRIPS Waiver, and access to COVID-19 medical technologies
MSF has time and again witnessed how monopoly rights granted to pharmaceutical corporations have impeded the timely and sufficient accessibility of lifesaving medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and other health technologies. These barriers continue to undermine healthcare providers ability to respond to health challenges, such as HIV/AIDS, drug-resistant tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
To address these issues, MSF has constantly advocated for the use of flexibilities available under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). In October 2020, South Africa and India submitted a proposal to the WTO for a temporary waiver during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow WTO members to choose not to apply, enforce or implement certain intellectual property (IP) rules concerning COVID-19 medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and other related technologies and materials. To date, the proposal is widely supported by more than 100 countries and by UN agencies, international organizations, civil society organizations and community leaders.
This briefing document provides an overview of a key TRIPS flexibility: compulsory licensing, including government-use licensing. These licenses have been used in the past, especially with respect to antiretroviral medicines to treat HIV/AIDS, cancer treatments, and antivirals to treat hepatitis C. Not surprisingly, compulsory licenses have also already been used as a public health safeguard to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to discussing compulsory licenses as an independent flexibility, this briefing explains how the proposed TRIPS waiver could supplement compulsory licensing given the limitations of TRIPS rules in addressing IP-related pandemic challenges.