TRIPS waiver now!
Press release |

In the wake of postponement of WTO’s Ministerial, MSF underscores the urgency of adopting the TRIPS Waiver for people’s unhindered access to COVID-19 medical tools

4 min
TRIPS waiver now!

MSF and supporters urge high-income countries blocking the landmark TRIPS Waiver to put proclaimed global solidarity into practice and support the Waiver now

Geneva, 29 November 2021 — As the World Trade Organization (WTO) TRIPS Council meets today, after the indefinite postponement of the 12th Ministerial Conference due to the emergence of the highly transmissible strain of the COVID-19 virus along with changes in border rules for Switzerland, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) again deplored the dogmatic opposition to the landmark TRIPS Waiver proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property (IP) rights on COVID-19 medical products by a group of high-income countries including the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom and Switzerland. With the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of abating, including in regions with unfettered access to COVID-19 medical tools and high vaccination rates, as in Europe, it is clear that prioritizing access to COVID-19 medical tools, including tests, treatments and vaccines for everyone, everywhere is essential.

With millions of lives at stake, the world can’t afford to waste any more time.
Candice Sehoma
Advocacy Advisor
MSF Access Campaign South Africa

“The recent emergence of another new, more transmissible variant is a telling example of how this virus continues to mutate particularly in the absence of equitable access to the right COVID-19 medical tools to deal with it,” said Candice Sehoma, South Africa Advocacy Officer, MSF Access Campaign. “With millions of lives at stake, the world can’t afford to waste any more time. We call on countries opposing and diluting this waiver to today halt the stalling tactics and take urgent measures to adopt a comprehensive waiver for facilitating more diversified and broader production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics and other health technologies. The waiver is needed now more than ever.” 

In the 14 months since India and South Africa first proposed the landmark TRIPS Waiver proposal in an effort to increase people’s access to COVID-19 medical tools, over 4 million people have lost their lives to COVID-19, with over 5 million lives lost since the start of the pandemic overall. In response, over 100 nations have come together to support the TRIPS Waiver, showing that more than half the world’s governments consider the adoption and implementation of this proposal to be an effective tool against COVID-19. However, due to opposition from a group of high-income countries that are currently burying this global solidarity, negotiations on the TRIPS Waiver continue to move at a glacial pace. 

Every day, we are witnessing a desperate need for COVID-19 medical tools in the places we work
Reveka Papadopoulou
President of MSF’s Operational Centre
MSF Switzerland

“Every day, we are witnessing a desperate need for COVID-19 medical tools in the places we work,” said Reveka Papadopoulou, President of MSF’s Operational Centre in Geneva. “Given the severely limited access to the COVID-19 drugs, diagnostics and vaccines needed to save lives, it’s truly demoralizing that some governments are opposing an initiative like the TRIPS Waiver which could have such a positive impact on how low- and middle-income countries are able to tackle this pandemic.” 

As the world continues to experience severe inequity in access to COVID-19 vaccines, access to new treatments and tests to reduce the number of deaths remains crucial, yet similarly challenging. These access challenges are made worse because pharmaceutical corporations provide only a limited supply of medical tools to low- and middle-income countries whilst holding key patents and other IP that can block generic production. 

In order to be most effective, MSF has clearly outlined that the final text of the TRIPS Waiver must ensure the scope of the Waiver goes beyond vaccines and applies to all essential medical technologies including tests and treatments; that any and all IP and their enforcement are lifted; and that the duration of the Waiver lasts for at least 5 years in order to allow for the manufacturing and supply of COVID-19 medical tools and their materials and components to be prepared, scaled up, diversified and sustained. 

Editor’s Note:

In addition to supporting the TRIPS Waiver proposal, MSF calls on governments to use all legal and policy tools to facilitate uninterrupted production and diversity in supply of COVID-19 medical tools, including the full use of existing TRIPS flexibilities for public health safeguarding. MSF also urges all governments with sufficient COVID-19 vaccine doses to immediately redistribute excess doses to the COVAX Facility or regional bodies. MSF urges the US and German governments to pressure Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to share mRNA vaccine technology and know-how with manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries, and for all governments to support the WHO COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub with financial and political support.

South African activists protest in support of the WTO TRIPS Waiver Photo by Tadeu Andre

No Patents, No Monopolies in a Pandemic

Monopolies are often an obstacle between people and the lifesaving health tools they need. Patents and other exclusivities limit supply and keep prices high.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown we need new rules that can help every country address the fast-growing medical needs during a major global health crisis.

Over 100 countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO) supported a proposal to temporarily waive patents, trade secrets and other intellectual property (IP) on all COVID-19 medical tools.

Photo by Tadeu Andre