Medicine Equality Now! A fight for survival

  • World Trade Organization (WTO) members have, so far, had over eight months to back the TRIPS waiver, first proposed by India and South Africa – during that time there have been an additional 2.7 million deaths from COVID-19. There is now a move to text-based negotiations, but how much longer does the world have to wait?
  • “While you keep talking, people keep dying” – this was said during the height of HIV epidemics, and it applies again now.
  • The waiver must happen, it is a moral failure for all countries not to back it – in full – without any ‘watering-down’.
  • Donations are not enough – nor are they the long-term solution. Commitments to COVAX, including the billion doses committed by the G7 leaders, fall short of the 11 billion doses required to vaccinate the world, as estimated by the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • We welcome all measures that enable more people to be protected, but the failings of pharmaceutical corporations, and the nationalistic behaviour of many rich countries during this pandemic, has only further highlighted the flaws in an already failed patent system.
  • More lives are being lost, yet profits are going up. Not only have there been avoidable deaths from COVID-19, but hard-fought gains, including on HIV, are going into reverse during the pandemic.
  • It’s time to exclude ALL essential medicines, vaccines and other health technologies from TRIPS. Let’s restore medicines to a public good. It’s a fight for survival.

Medicine equality does not exist

In 1995, a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement, the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights — or TRIPS — introduced intellectual property (IP) rights on medicines, vaccines and other essential health technologies. An argument in favour of TRIPS was that it would increase innovation by rewarding investment into medical science. But the patent system is broken. In fact, it was never fit for purpose.

Pharmaceutical corporations have been able to exploit the agreement all too easily. Since TRIPS, there have been price hikes, astronomical CEO salaries, and skyrocketing shareholder profits – but less medical breakthroughs, and no equality when it comes to access. Now, it’s not who needs treatment that gets it — it’s who can afford it. The system has never worked — it’s failed on TB, malaria and cancer. Now, it’s failing on the coronavirus pandemic.

The patent system is broken

Millions of people die each year of curable diseases.
The system protects profit over people. People die because they can’t access life-saving treatment.

Corporations profit off OUR investment.
Billions of taxpayer money goes into drug development each year — yet private, profit-led corporations claim the patents. We’re paying twice — first through our taxes, then buying the drug we need to survive. CEOs take home incomprehensibly high salaries, while other people die because they can’t access a $2 drug

Patent applications get rewarded, not innovation.
They’re not the same thing. The majority of patents are examples of ‘evergreening’ –  extending lucrative monopolies on old drugs, not new discoveries.

We’ve tried asking, now it’s time for action

  • Eight months ago, World Trade Organization (WTO) members were given the opportunity to demonstrate that they support equal access to the right to health, and help tackle the pandemic, by waiving IP rights on COVID-19 treatment and vaccines. They didn’t.
  • Pharmaceutical corporations committed to ensuring equal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines via COVAX. They didn’t.
    Even with the additional doses committed it falls drastically short of the estimated 11 billion required.
  • Developers of COVID-19 health products were invited to share their knowledge, and data with quality-assured manufacturers via C-TAP. They didn’t.

The right to profit is being prioritised over the right to survive, even during a pandemic.
It shows we will never be able to trust the pharma industry to do the right thing. IP protections do not belong on medicines. Whether it’s COVID or cancer or cystic fibrosis, diabetes, HIV or rare childhood diseases — it is one the world’s greatest injustices that people die when treatment exists

What needs to happen now

The pharmaceutical industry cannot be trusted to trade with our health. Voluntary measures, such as COVAX and C-TAP do not work in the way intended, and the scant ‘charitable’ gestures that exist just serve to prop up a broken system, allowing the pharma industry to keep their control. That’s why we are appealing directly to the World Trade Organization and its worldwide members.

To the WTO DG Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: We urge Okonjo-Iweala to call for a review of the TRIPS Agreement, with the purpose of excluding medicines, vaccines and other essential health technologies from patent protection.

To the 164 members of the WTO: It’s time to push for meaningful changes to the TRIPS Agreement — so every person around the world has equal access to life-saving technologies.

It’s time to restore medicines to a public good. It’s a fight for survival.

About Medicine Equality Now!

The Medicine Equality Now! campaign is led by Make Medicines Affordable, a partnership of civil society treatment activists in middle-income countries. The campaign’s goal is to exclude TRIPS for essential treatments, vaccines and other health technologies so that they are affordable and accessible to all who need them.