We can’t beat the pandemic if rich countries hog all the vaccines: Ramaphosa

While the pandemic has highlighted the value of partnership, it has also demonstrated the damaging effects of unilateral action and unequal access to resources, says President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Speaking at an international roundtable on Tuesday (4 May), Ramaphosa said that his government was pushing and the African Union was pushing for a temporary Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization for Covid-19.

The waiver would suspend intellectual property rights so that Covid-19 vaccines and other new technologies are accessible for poor countries.

“We cannot hope to overcome this pandemic for as long as richer countries have most of the world’s supply of vaccines to the exclusion and the detriment of poorer countries,” said Ramaphosa.

“As we prepare for future pandemics, we need to accelerate efforts to realise Universal Health Coverage. We need to ensure that vaccines and other life-saving treatments are considered a public good.”

Ramaphosa said that the TRIPS waiver will enable more countries to produce Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and treatments to make them more accessible and affordable for poorer countries.

“This is about saving human lives. Not sometime in the future, but right now. For more than a year, we have fought this global pandemic together as an international community.

“Let us now work together, with even greater resolve and focus, to not only prepare for the next pandemic but to build a fairer, healthier and more equitable world.”

Why the waiver is important

Without special measures, proponents argue, rich countries will benefit from new technologies as they come onto the market, while poor nations continue to be devastated by the pandemic, scientific journal the Lancet reported.

The proposal states that intellectual rights such as patents are obstructing affordable Covid-19 medical products.

A temporary ban would allow multiple actors to start production sooner, instead of having manufacturing concentrated in the hands of a small number of patent holders.

“What this waiver proposal does is it opens space for further collaboration, for the transfer of technology and for more producers to come in to ensure that we have scalability in a much shorter period of time,” said Mustaqeem De Gama, counsellor at the South African Permanent Mission to the WTO, who helped write the proposal.

Developing nations at risk

Developing nations are already being left in the lurch, with deadlier variants of the virus emerging from these countries – the most notable of which being the B.1.617 variant in India, which has swept through the South Asian nation, infecting millions.

It’s not just India, however, reports Bloomberg.

‘Fierce’ new Covid-19 waves are enveloping other developing countries across the world, placing severe strain on their health-care systems and prompting appeals for help, it said.

“Nations ranging from Laos to Thailand in Southeast Asia, and those bordering India such as Bhutan and Nepal, have been reporting significant surges in infections in the past few weeks. The increase is mainly because of more contagious virus variants, though complacency and lack of resources to contain the spread have also been cited as reasons.”

In Laos last week, the health minister sought medical equipment, supplies and treatment, as cases jumped more than 200-fold in a month.

Nepal is seeing hospitals quickly filling up and running out of oxygen supplies. Health facilities are under pressure in Thailand, where 98% of new cases are from a more infectious strain of the pathogen, while some island nations in the Pacific Ocean are facing their first Covid waves.

Although nowhere close to India’s population or flare-up in scope, the reported spikes in these handful of nations have been far steeper, signalling the potential dangers of an uncontrolled spread.

The resurgence – and first-time outbreaks in some places that largely avoided the scourge last year – heightens the urgency of delivering vaccine supplies to poorer, less influential countries and averting a protracted pandemic.

Ranked by the change in newly recorded infections in the past month over the previous month, Laos came first with a 22,000% increase, followed by Nepal and Thailand, both of which saw fresh caseload skyrocketing more than 1,000% on a month-over-month basis.

Also on top of the list are Bhutan, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Cambodia and Fiji, as they witnessed the epidemic erupt at a high triple-digit pace.

(With Bloomberg)

Read: South Africa looking at new lockdown measures around Indian and other Covid variants: Mkhize

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We can’t beat the pandemic if rich countries hog all the vaccines: Ramaphosa