In my previous article - Waiver under the Trip Agreement amid COVID-192 I pleaded for urgent need for waiver of TRIP Agreement to make available vaccines for COVID-19 at low cost to developing and least developed nations. In the last 2 months much water has flown under the bridge and many countries including India are suffering much worst waive of Corona pandemic.
Current waive of Corona virus is much worst and has caused havoc on mankind. Many developed and developing countries have suffered second, third and fourth waive of Corona virus. On top of it virus has mutated many-times over. Every few weeks media is reporting new variant of Corona virus deadlier than earlier. India too is overwhelmed by Corona virus – everyday now reporting around 400,000 new cases and around 4,000 deaths - and some other countries have had either same percentage or more of new cases or deaths in terms of percentage of population.
India is known as pharmaceutical, formulation and innovation hub of world. During initial days of onset of Corona virus globally India pharmaceutical industry not only did pioneering research but also ramped up production capacities for development and production of vaccine for Corona virus. Indian Federal Government's policy of enforcing early lockdown also done wonders for controlling impact of Corona in India. Boyed by early success of controlling spread of Corona and to extend a healing hand to global community, Indian Prime Minister supplied not only vaccines but also other medical equipment – as aid to needy nations or supplement efforts of developed countries - and earned well deserved kudos from world leaders.
And then much worst Corona virus second waive hit India.
The reason in not far to look. As citizens of India we failed our country by not following Corona protocol, went back to our social life more vigorously to recoup the lost time and of course marriages season and local factors also contributed big time to the current crisis. We thought we had defeated Corona virus. How wrong we were? Corona virus was just getting smarter with new variant and mutant but hit Indian citizens and many other countries big time. Whole health care system and social fabric of India crumbled under the weight of onslaught of Corona virus. Hospitals and medical fraternity, entire support system and even funeral places operated beyond unimagined peak levels. Many families are either wiped out or reduced to vulnerable members with bread earners dead and orphaned children needing adoption. Situation is no different in many other countries.
During this time of need, global community came to aid of India. The medical aid diplomacy of Indian Prime Minister is rewarded with much vigorous aid from large number of friendly nations. Everyday plane loads of medical aid and critical raw material to manufacture vaccines and equipment is landing in India, helping India fight this deadly virus. Probably India got more aid than it has given out. This shows we are truly a global community and honest diplomacy and standing by friends, neighbours and society in need is always mutually rewarding. Additionally, MNCs also came to aid of not only their Indian employees but for general population through charitable organisations.
Some countries have faced second wave and some are already through with third wave of Corona. But none of scientists and experts are talking about that this is the end of Corona virus. On the contrary experts are telling their governments to be ready for much deadlier next wave. So be the case, there is all the more reason for global institutions to come to the aid of humanity.
As mentioned in my earlier article, during TRIPS Council meeting held on October 15-16, 2020, India and South Africa had proposed to waive certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement until majority of global population is vaccinated. While World Trade Organisation (WTO) is seized of the matter, no consensus has emerged in the matter so far.
Keeping in view havoc created by second wave of Corona virus in India and many countries, including the USA, Canada, New Zealand have supported proposal of TRIPS waiver for Corona vaccine. At the same time discussions are ongoing to bring around Japan, Australia and other countries who have opposed the proposal. Diplomacy and consultative process is the best solution to divergent views but a timely decision will be helpful as the saying goes 'a stich in time saves nine'.
Of course, many large pharmaceutical companies are not happy with the ongoing discussions of TRIPS waiver and oppose the idea. These companies are sending out warning that any dilution of intellectual property rights will have negative impact on future investment in research and development by them. Right fully so! Having made huge investment in developing new drugs and vaccines, such companies wants to recoup their investments to again move to next discovery. Pharma industry is research and innovation based, requiring long term commitment and resources, and not every research leads to commercially viable discovery. Hence, there is urgent need to strike balance between need of mankind and commercial interest of pharma industry.
Pharma industry and people are both two ends of the same stick and are dependent on each other. Neither of them would survive without each other. Large pharma companies which have made fortune out of new discovery or patented drugs must show magnanimity and come to the aid of humanity by voluntarily supporting TRIPS waiver for a shorter during till taming of Corona virus, which should also be acceptable to global leaders. Till every human is vaccinated, Corona virus is going to rear its ugly head and continue to challenge mankind.
While as I mentioned earlier under the TRIPS Agreement, countries can resort to Compulsory License, but lack of technology and production facilities with many least developed and developing countries, will cause not only inequalities but also be not of much help. The target is to vaccinate every human on the earth, which cannot be achieved by resort to Compulsory Licensing under the TRIPS Agreement by countries.
Hence, there is urgent need for TRIPS Council to be convened, build a consensus and move fast on this matter. The WTO Chief has already made a request on May 5, 2021 to member countries to negotiate and present a proposal for temporary waiver of intellectual rights to fight Corona virus to provide access to vaccine to all. Globally experts are recommending that WTO conclude negotiations on TRIPS waiver and come to a common ground to make available vaccine to all before it is too late. Unless magnanimity and urgency is shown by world leaders and big pharma companies, Corona virus will continue to ravish humanity. Every second counts and clock is ticking in offices of WTO and global leaders.
1 Author is partner with Ashok Dhingra Associates and views are strictly personal
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