On November 22, the CCPA joined Canadian health, human rights, trade justice and labour groups in sending the following letter to Trade Minister Mary Ng and Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne on the need for Canada to support a proposal before the World Trade Organization to expand intellectual property rights flexibilities for COVID-19 vaccine exports to also cover therapeutics, diagnostics and other COVID-19 related goods. For more information on the so-called TRIPS Waiver at the WTO and the CCPA's engagements on the international debate, visit our landing page here.
Dear Ministers Ng and Champagne,
Our organizations are writing to you to raise concerns about the lack of urgency displayed by several countries at the World Trade Organization (WTO), including Canada, regarding ongoing inequitable global access to COVID-19 medical technologies.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world continue to be diagnosed with COVID-19 each day. The risk of new and potentially more deadly strains emerging and contributing to waning vaccine protection remains high. COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and tests are vital in keeping the pandemic under control and preventing further loss of life, but supplies remain grossly inadequate in low- and middle-income countries.
The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver compromise that was reached at the 12th Ministerial Conference of the WTO this June was a disappointing outcome. The adopted text is unreasonably limited to COVID-19 vaccines and comes too late into the pandemic to be of use in expanding vaccine production. However, we are cautiously optimistic about the potential of extending the Ministerial Decision to cover therapeutics and diagnostics, as currently being considered by the TRIPS Council in Geneva.
Testing kits and treatments for patients with COVID-19 are the cornerstone of any effective public health strategy for controlling the pandemic. Antivirals like Nirmatrelvir/Ritonavir, Remdesivir and Molnupiravir have been shown to lower the severity of COVID infection. These products—tests and treatments—are widely available in the U.S. and other rich countries but remain unavailable in much of the world due to high costs and limited supplies.
Although pharmaceutical companies Merck and Pfizer have entered into voluntary licenses with the Medicines Patent Pool to meet a portion of low and middle income country demand for COVID-19 therapeutics, these agreements are limited and exclude hundreds of millions of people from middle income countries. Governments of these countries have no alternative but to wait at the back of the line for higher priced doses from originator companies, which throughout the pandemic have proven unable to meet global demand.
The case for waiving TRIPS rules covering the production and export of patented treatments and diagnostic tools for COVID-19 is just as strong and perhaps stronger than it was for vaccines at this stage in the pandemic. Generic manufacturing of affordable lifesaving COVID-19 medical tools could rapidly fix the supply crisis in low and middle income countries but is prevented by IP protections. Yet after two years of debates and hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of preventable deaths, Canadian representatives at the WTO continue to insist that more study of the issue is needed.
The 93 countries that support the TRIPS waiver are calling on WTO member states to rapidly come to agreement on extending the waiver decision to therapeutics and diagnostics, as agreed in Geneva, by the end of this year. We urge Canada to revise its position and support this push at every step of the discussions within the TRIPS Council.
Amnesty International Canada
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA)
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) / Syndicat canadien de la fonction publique (SCFP)
Council of Canadians / Conseil des canadiens
HIV Legal Network
People’s Health Movement-Canada
Réseau Québécois pour une mondialisation inclusive (RQMI)
Trade Justice Network