The rapid addition of inexperienced staff in an emergency situation, as happened in many hospitals during South Africa’s second COVID-19 wave, can produce challenges, which MSF witnessed first-hand in the field hospital at Ngwelezana Tertiary Hospital in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Photograph by Chris Allan
Technical brief |

Removing intellectual-property barriers from COVID-19 vaccines and treatments for people in South Africa

Report Cover image
Photograph by Chris Allan

Updated 8 March 2022

Intellectual property (IP) barriers can undermine access to medicines. The COVID-19 pandemic provides a stark example, with limited access to COVID-19 medical tools like vaccines and treatments in South Africa due in part to IP barriers. This briefing paper highlights the present and emerging IP barriers for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and provides an analysis of policy and legal changes that are required to address them in the South African context and beyond.

These include reforms of South Africa’s national patent laws, use of compulsory licenses, revocation of lapsed and unmerited patents, and rejection of patents related to COVID-19 medical tools. At the global level, the South African government together with the Indian government, has taken the lead in proposing a waiver from certain IP rules at the World Trade Organization (WTO), and all countries should support this proposal. In addition, patent-holding companies should refrain from seeking or enforcing patents in South Africa on COVID-19 medical tools and should share their technologies to enable increased manufacturing and greater access.