AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) praised today the head of the World Trade Organization, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, for calling on developing countries to put in place legal mechanisms to suspend intellectual property protections on medical commodities during public health emergencies.
“These flexibilities already exist under the mandate of the WTO, but few countries take advantage of them, at least in part because they lack the statutory basis to invoke them. Having the necessary laws on the books would allow countries to quickly take advantage of this mechanism during outbreaks or pandemics – for this reason, we fully support Director-General Iweala’s message,” said AHF Director of Global Policy and Communications Denys Nazarov. “Trying to figure out these things during a new or developing public health emergency is too late. As we saw with COVID-19, every day and week of delays results in preventable loss of life. It is in countries’ best interest to prepare now—otherwise, they might find themselves once again shut out from access to technologies and medicines they need to keep their citizens alive.”
The IP flexibilities are part of the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. In practice, they have been invoked only a handful of times because countries that use them face significant political and economic pressure from wealthy countries and pharmaceutical companies not to suspend patents. With COVID-19, the WTO spent two years in a virtual deadlock over the suspension of patents on COVID-19 vaccines and related technologies, which ultimately did not result in any meaningful expansion of access to these lifesaving commodities.