Governments negotiating at WTO this week must get it right and adopt original TRIPS waiver

An MSF staff member in white vest and latex gloves prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a nursing home in Lebanon.

Lebanon 2021 © Tracy Makhlouf/MSF

NEW YORK/GENEVA, JUNE 6, 2022—At the World Trade Organization (WTO) General Council Meeting tomorrow and the WTO Ministerial Conference that starts on June 12, governments are expected to continue negotiations on a problematic version of an intellectual property (IP) waiver on COVID-19 medical tools that was presented in early May. If adopted as it stands, it would essentially only waive certain IP on COVID-19 vaccines—leaving people across the world without access to lifesaving treatments and diagnostics, said Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

MSF is urging governments, including the US government, to reject this version and instead take this opportunity to adopt the original version of the TRIPS waiver that was proposed 20 months ago and supported by more than 100 governments. The original waiver was designed to lift IP monopolies on medical tools for the duration of the pandemic and help ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics for everyone, everywhere.

Yuanqiong Hu, senior legal and policy advisor for MSF's Access Campaign:

“People’s access to important COVID-19 treatments and diagnostics remains challenging in many developing countries due in part to IP barriers and restrictive licensing by pharmaceutical corporations. The original TRIPS waiver proposed 20 months ago aimed to tackle IP barriers for all COVID-19 medical tools by making it easier for any country to increase production and supply during the pandemic. Adopting it should have been an urgent and essential priority for the global pandemic response.

“This is the last chance for governments to finally do the right thing and come back to the original spirit of the TRIPS waiver proposal that had the support of over 100 governments, international health institutions, civil society groups, and millions of people across the globe. Against the backdrop of a pandemic that WHO estimates has already claimed almost 15 million lives—and in which there has been grave inequity in access to medical tools—we want to see governments urgently come up with a true IP waiver that covers treatments, vaccines, and tests and is free for any country to use.

“We are gravely concerned that the text currently being used as the basis for negotiations is categorically different than the original TRIPS waiver proposal and contains multiple issues that need to be substantively addressed. We don’t want to see a decision at WTO that could take us in the wrong direction and may end up setting a negative precedent, including by limiting existing public health safeguards.”