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India, South Africa ask EU to break deadlock on Covid drugs, vaccine


NEW DELHI: After weeks of impasse, India and South Africa have asked the European Union to come up with a solution to break the deadlock on a TRIPS waiver for Covid drugs and vaccines, instead of merely blocking the proposal, aimed at ensuring people in the poor and developing countries are adequately protected from the pandemic. Indian officials told TOI that EU has come to the negotiating table in recent weeks to engage on a possible way out with sources in Geneva indicating that the trading bloc may come around to agreeing to limiting the flexibility to patent waiver only for vaccines. The India-South Africa proposal, which has now been backed by over 100 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), seeks to provide patent, copyright and other IPR waivers for medical devices, therapeutics as well as vaccines. At the moment, EU has suggested that vaccine manufacturers that are able and ready to produce shots may be allowed to start producing, without worrying about a patent. The WTO secretariat is keen that a solution is found ahead of this month’s ministerial meeting in Geneva, although details are unlikely to be finalised in the next three weeks. WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is keen to deliver a trade and health package at the ministerial meeting and is hoping that it would help get the support of countries such as India to back the fisheries agreement in return. The EU along with the UK, Switzerland and Japan are the only naysayers to the plan to even discuss the draft floated by India and South Africa. Even within the EU, it is only a handful of countries such as Germany, which are opposing the plan. While South Africa has got a “vaccine hub”, it is not seen to have benefited from it, leave alone the mRNA facility meeting the requirements of other African countries. On its part, India is keen that a solution to the vaccine issue is found at the earliest, although officials claimed that ratcheting up the demand has meant that developed countries at least stop blocking supply of key inputs and seek to address the massive vaccine inequality. Besides, it has got the EU to suggest the use of the compulsory licence route, which allows for patent waiver in case of national emergencies, something that the developed countries had always opposed. Government sources said various options are being looked at by several developing countries and some of them may resort to using the compulsory licensing option.


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