Caritas Internationalis tells WTO that vaccine patents are still a problem

As the World Trade Organisation holds its ministerial conference, the Catholic charity renews its call for a waiver on intellectual property rights to cope with COVID-19 pandemic. Only 17.6 per cent of the population in low-income countries have been vaccinated. For Caritas, the poor have been left alone.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Twelfth World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference opened yesterday in Geneva and will last until Tuesday. Caritas Internationalis is calling on its members to accept a waiver on intellectual property rights to share information and allow the transfer of technologies to developing countries to help them cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.  

After 18 months of negotiations on an agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the Catholic charity was hopeful that the pandemic could open the door to more effective, extensive and comprehensive solutions that would help protect the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. So far, this has remained a pie in the sky.

According to the latest United Nations data, only 17.6 per cent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 72.2 per cent of people in high-income countries.

People living in poverty, the most exposed to diseases, have been left alone and lack access to health care, vaccines as well as the technologies and healthcare resources needed to deal with COVID-19 and emerging variants.

For this reason, Caritas Internationalis is calling for a waiver on intellectual property rights for the duration of the pandemic, to enable the countries of the global South to produce vaccines and strengthen healthcare systems so that they can cope with any future pandemics.

This cannot be achieved unless a rapid transfer of knowledge is agreed through training and localised vaccine production.

“It is a basic right for every person to have access to healthcare in all circumstances, especially during pandemics,” said Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Aloysius John.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to impact the lives of millions of people worldwide, it has become evident that the citizens of developing nations should have equitable access to life-saving vaccines,” John urged.

In Caritas Internationalis’s view, the agreements reached so far do not provide for a full waiver.

New obstacles have been put in place on countries that seek to lift intellectual property barriers and boost COVID-19 drug production, nor have all existing intellectual property barriers that hinder access to technologies been lifted.

What is more, the agreements do not cover therapeutics and diagnostics, and exclude certain countries.

Hence, “We call on all countries to urgently base their decisions on a human rights framework, making sure that the dignity of every individual is preserved and social justice prevails,” the Caritas secretary general added.