The Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 32 lakh lives across the world in just a year or so, is undoubtedly a global crisis that can be best dealt with through global cooperation. Equitable access to vaccines and life-saving medicines is a prerequisite for fighting and hopefully winning the pitched battle against the novel coronavirus, which has ravaged developed and developing countries alike. Alas, a huge gulf persists between the haves and the have-nots. In Africa, for instance, barely 2 crore vaccine doses have been given so far, even as the continent accounts for around 130 crore people. In the backdrop of such stark imbalance, it’s commendable that the US has thrown its weight behind an initiative to suspend patent rules on Covid vaccines.
In October 2020, India and South Africa had submitted a proposal suggesting a temporary waiver for all World Trade Organisation (WTO) member countries on the implementation, application and enforcement of certain provisions of the TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement with regard to the prevention, containment or treatment of Covid-19. As and when it happens, the lifting of patent protections can potentially enable poor nations to get more vaccine doses and put up a better fight against the lethal virus.
Not surprisingly, America’s stand has failed to enthuse big pharma, which claims that the waiver of intellectual property rights will neither facilitate vaccine accessibility nor help curb the outbreak any time soon. This misplaced pessimism is fuelled by greed. On an average, it costs more than $1 billion for a drug to pass all the development stages and get regulatory approval. The global pharmaceutical industry fears that disturbing the status quo on patents would eat into its profits and disincentivise innovators. Avarice amid adversity is nothing less than a crime against humanity. It’s high time all nations, big and small, realise that their destinies are intertwined. The world must come together to prevent public health from being sacrificed at the altar of profit-making. The onus is on Covid-battered India to drum up enough international support to deal a decisive blow to the virus.