SA and India intensify efforts to convince US for equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines

Johannesburg – Despite hitting a brick wall several times, South Africa is not giving up the fight just yet and has now intensified its efforts calling for the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics for developing countries.

This week, SA’s ambassador to the US Nomaindiya Mfeketo together with her Indian counterpart Taranjit Singh Sandhi met with the US congress woman and chairperson on Africa and global health Karen Bass.

The meeting was part of an ongoing efforts by the two nations to lobby rich countries to back their joint proposal before the World Trade Organisation requesting to be granted a temporary waiver of intellectual rights to Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics. A

ccording to the two countries, the relaxation in the norms of the Agreement on TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) will lead to an accelerated and affordable access to the lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines and medicines for the poorer countries mainly in Africa and Asia. Hundreds other countries are also campaigning for the temporary waiver.

Professor Bheki Mngomezulu, University of the Western Cape based academic and international relations specialist said if the waiver is granted it would signal a breakthrough for developing countries.

“The relaxation of TRIPS would lead to the vaccines being readily available and this will also reduce costs for developing countries. So, if you win the US, you indirectly take control of other countries who are in bilateral relations with America. Although it won’t be easy, but I think prospects are much better now under the new administration led by Biden,” said Mngomezulu.

Although the proposal was tabled last October before the WTO, big pharmaceuticals have made it clear that they would oppose the move all the way. Both South Africa and India believe if the US as the world superpower supports the proposal, more rich countries will follow suit.

While the White House has not pronounced itself, pressure is mounting for Joe Biden’s administration to raise a hand and support the proposal. As it stands, lawmakers together with several human rights and non-profits organisations in the US have already approached the White House hoping to twist Biden’s administration to back the move.

This week’s meeting was confirmed by Zane Dangor, the special advisor to the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation who said the meeting was part of the ongoing process of lobbying wealthy nations to support the call on TRIPS waiver.

“The US as an important role player will make a big difference. The US is becoming more minimal because the civil society in the US is putting more pressure. The fact is that there is capacity to manufacture. Countries only wants assurance that they would be no counter measures that would be put to place against them. In Africa, we have approximately 11 institutions ready to ramp up manufacturing,” said Dangor.

He said the European Union had shown hostility towards the proposal.

The TRIPS waiver would make it possible for developing countries and small-scale manufacturers to directly access and share technologies to produce vaccines and therapeutics without being threatened with lawsuits and sanctions for breaching Intellectual Property Rights.

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