Civil society urges more government action for equitable global access to COVID medical products

MEDIA RELEASE   August 9, 2022: 

National fair trade, public health, human rights and aid and development organisations have written to the Trade Minister and other relevant ministers urging them to take further action to address the continuing shocking global inequity of access to Covid 19 vaccines treatments and other products. While over 80% of people in Australia have had two vaccination, and treatments are now available, only 20% in low income countries have had one vaccination and there is even less access to treatments.

World Trade Organisation  (WTO) intellectual property rules give 20-year monopolies on vaccines and treatments to a few pharmaceutical companies, ensuring they control both quantities and price. Most COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, developed with government funding, have been sold at high prices to wealthy countries. Millions of people are dying while new variants spread and companies such as Pfizer reap revenues of $US36 billion in a single year. Waving monopolies on COVID-related related medicines would enable them to be produced at affordable prices in developing countries.

The organisations note that the WTO decision in June to waive some monopolies only applies to vaccines, but foreshadowed the inclusion of treatments and tests by December this year. The letter urges the government to

  • strongly support proposals from developing countries for a concerted WTO work program to ensure the WTO decision applies to tests and treatments by December,
  • support and fund manufacturing hubs in developing countries 
  • make government assistance to pharmaceutical companies developing and manufacturing COVID-related products in Australia conditional on sharing intellectual property to enable manufacturing in developing countries.
  • Support provisions in the World Health Organization pandemic treaty that require the sharing of intellectual property for medical tools for future pandemics.

Dr Patricia Ranald, Convener of the Australian Fair Trade Investment Network said;

“The winter wave of new variants in Australia where most people have been vaccinated and have access to treatments should remind us that millions are still dying in low income countries because of lack of access to vaccines and treatments. The government must take more action to address this global injustice.”

Dr Deborah Gleeson, spokesperson for the Public Health Association of Australia said:

“Australia can and should do more to ensure essential medicines and vaccines for public health emergencies are widely available around the world, rather than reserved for rich countries. This means fundamental changes to our approach in international negotiations as well as changes to funding contracts for pharmaceutical research and development, along with practical support to low income countries in our region.”

Anthea Spinks Acting Chief Executive of Oxfam Australia said:

 “The repercussions of this pandemic are continuing to play out globally, with COVID-19 sweeping through populations and severely hampering the ability of economies to recover. It is also helping to fuel a devastating and deadly hunger crisis in many low-income countries. We can and must do more to ensure greater access to vaccines for all people, to save lives and allow poorer countries a chance to rebuild.”

Ry Atkinson, Strategic Campaigner at Amnesty International Australia said:

“Agreements struck earlier this year at the WTO weren't enough then and certainly aren't enough now. While wealthy countries pat themselves on the back for a job well done, and carry on as though this pandemic is over, big pharmaceutical companies are laughing all the way to the bank; all while people in low-income countries continue to die unnecessarily. Member countries have one last opportunity to make a real difference, the relevance of the WTO depends on it.”

 Dr Mark Zirnsak  Senior Social Justice Advocate Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania said:

“The COVID pandemic has highlighted the injustice of the global trade system, that favours the profits that flow into the pockets of the owners and managers of multinational corporations over the well-being of billions of people. Our common humanity requires that our government strive to place the health and well-being of people everywhere first and end the ability of wealthy corporations to capture public policy.”