26 May, 2022: A frontline nurse from Liberia has launched a ‘round of applause’ for the Pharma executives at the World Economic Forum who continue to make mammoth profits by lobbying against a waiver of monopolies on COVID-19 medicines at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
COVID-19 Pandemic and medicine monopolies
COVID pandemic exposed how medicine monopolies delayed access to vaccines and treatments
During the COVID pandemic 2020-22, AFTINET campaigned on the issue of access to pandemic-related medicines. COVID has demonstrated the limitations of the global health system and the Intellectual WTO Property (IP) regime that shaped the global response to the pandemic. IP rules gave a few pharmaceutical companies twenty-year patents on new COVID vaccines, which meant they controlled both the quantity and prices. Most vaccines were sold to high-income countries at high prices. This resulted in long delays in access to vaccines for low and low-middle income countries leading to lower vaccination rates. There was even less access to treatments when they became available.
Developing countries in October 2020 proposed a temporary waiver of WTO IP rules to share intellectual property and enable global production of more vaccines and treatments at affordable prices for low- and middle-income countries. AFTINET worked with a broad coalition of public health, union, aid and development and human rights organisations to generate public support for this proposal and to lobby the Australian government to support it. We commissioned a survey which showed that most Australian supported the temporary waiver and organised a petition with 50,000 signatures, organised rallies exposing pharmaceutical companies’ profiteering, and pressured the government and opposition parties to state publicly that they would support the waiver. However, at the WTO negotiations the government took a neutral stance, trying to broker a compromise between supporters and opponents of the waiver.
The waiver proposal was delayed for over 18 months by rich countries, lobbied by pharmaceutical companies, until the peak of the pandemic was over. The June 2022 WTO Ministerial decision on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was a watered-down version of the waiver originally proposed which had little effect and applied only to vaccines. A decision on COVID treatments and other pandemic-related products was postponed and has still not been made.
In early 2022, for every dose of mRNA vaccine delivered to low-income countries, 56 were delivered to rich countries. Vaccination rates in low-income countries were less than 20% by January 2022, and were still only at 32% in September 2023. These delays contributed to the estimated 17.2 million deaths due to COVID, the majority of which were in low- and low-middle income countries.
The World Health Organisation is now negotiating a Pandemic Agreement to apply to future pandemics, which is intended to learn from the mistakes of the COVID pandemic. AFTINET is lobbying the Australian government to support temporary waivers on monopolies and other actions to share intellectual property and technology for all pandemic-related products, to ensure more equitable access for low- and middle-income countries. See our submission below.
- AFTINET submission to the Department of Health and Aged Care on Preparing for, and responding to, future pandemics and other international health emergencies (September 2023)
- Conversation Article: Why the WTO TRIPS Council must extend patents waiver to COVID-19 tests and treatments (December 2022)
- Video: Nurse protests COVID-19 monopolies by applauding pharma CEOs at Davos (May 2022)
- Open letter: 300 civil society organisations to South African and Indian leaders on COVID medicine monopolies (April 2022)
- Oxfam report: Pandemic of Greed (March 2022)
- Guardian Article: Trade rules have thwarted global efforts to fight Covid – the WTO must waive monopolies on vaccines, treatments and tests (February 2022)
- Open Letter to WTO: Access to vaccines, tests and treatments must not be delayed (February 2022)
- MSF report on COVAX scheme (January 2022)
- Civil society open letter to reach an urgent decision to waive monopolies on vaccine (December 2021)
Updated September 2023.
16 May, 2022: After more than one year of delay, more detailed negotiations to lift patent monopolies on COVID19 medicines have begun in earnest at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
May 9, 2022: AFTINET has joined with public health, human rights, and labour rights campaigners to call on Trade Minister Dan Tehan to oppose the recent draft proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) TRIPS Council meeting on May 6.
5 May, 2022: The WTO Director General, Ms Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has announced that she will share a previously leaked proposal for a limited waiver on COVID19 vaccine monopolies with the wider WTO membership, despite an absence of agreement between key countries.
14 April, 2022: AFTINET has added its voice to an open letter addressed to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The letter, signed by more than 300 civil society organisations from across the globe, urges the leaders to reject the “unequal and inadequate” proposal on COVID19 medicine monopolies that has been leaked by the European Union (EU), and to stand firm on the original waiver proposal to the World Trade Organisation from India and South Africa.
5 April, 2022: After analysing a draft proposal at the WTO on waiving COVID19 medicines monopolies, Médecins Sans Frontières/MSF has called on all governments to reject the proposal, as it does would not achieve vaccine equity, and would set a negative precedent for future global health challenges.
24 March, 2022: Experts in public health and international trade have labelled a leaked document on COVID19 vaccine patents as “deeply flawed”, and have said that will not achieve global vaccine equity.
23 March, 2022: Together with thirteen allied organisations, AFTINET has called on the Minister for Trade, Dan Tehan, to support a stronger waiver on COVID19 monopolies at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
17 March, 2022: After 18 months of talks, a leaked document proposing a deal between the United States, the European Union, South Africa and India that claims to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines for developing countries reveals some positive steps. But advocates say more is needed to address the inequity resulting in only 4% of people in low -income countries having had two vaccine doses, and even less access to new treatments. Under the leaked proposal, access to treatments and tests would not be included, but would be considered only after another six months’ delay.
15 March, 2022: The President of the Vanuatu Association for Public Service Employees, Dr Basil Leodoro, has urged the Australian government to do more to support a proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that would temporarily lift patent monopolies on COVID19 vaccines, tests and treatments