Treatment activists are celebrating after the Brazilian Senate took a historic step to remove barriers that prevent access to essential COVID-19 treatments, vaccine and diagnostics.
On 29 April 2021, Brazil’s Senate voted in favour of suspending intellectual property (IP) rights on all vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tools and other health related products, proven to be effective in tackling COVID-19. The historic vote secured an overwhelming majority, with 55 votes to 19. The next step is for the Chamber of Deputies to ratify the decision in a new voting session.
The Bill (12/2021) makes it mandatory for patent holders to share all tech know-how, related to the production of vaccines and medicines, with the Brazilian authorities.
More than 400,000 people in Brazil have lost their lives due to COVID-19. The vaccination program is slow, due to relying on procurement from outside of the country. The Bill makes it possible to improve local production and procure more affordable, generic versions to increase the rate of vaccination and improve treatment outcomes.
Senator Nelsinho Trad, acting as rapporteur, outlined how Bill had the objective of stimulating generic production in Brazil and abroad, and ensuring technology transfer agreements on treatments and vaccines essential to tackle the pandemic. Trad made clear that: “During this process, every precaution was also taken so that the decisions made here respect international treaties.”
India and South Africa have proposed a waiver on intellectual property (IP) rights on COVID-19 related technologies. It requires the backing of World trade Organization (WTO) members. The number of countries supporting the proposal is increasing, but six months on, certain, mainly richer, countries are blocking progress.
“World Trade Organization (WTO) members need to support the proposal, so that all countries can access the treatments and vaccines they need, and we can have a truly global response to the pandemic – which is the only way COVID-19 is going to be brought under control for the long-term. It is non-sensical to protect the profits of pharma corporations at the detriment of people’s lives. Even if some WTO members really do prioritise trade over people’s lives – which blocking the waiver indicates – the impact of COVID-19 on economies around the world is also catastrophic. Blocking this waiver is acting like only the lives of those in rich countries matter, and as though the only industry that matters is the pharmaceutical one,” says Othoman Mellouk, ITPC’s Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines Lead.
Blocking this waiver is acting like only the lives of those in rich countries matter, and as though the only industry that matters is the pharmaceutical one – Mellouk.
“Public investments supported the development of COVID-19 technologies and everyone in the world has a right to access them. Brazil is not waiting or relying on the WTO to take the right course of action. If members keep blocking the waiver request, we believe will see more countries following Brazil’s action, and essentially short-cutting WTOs role,” concludes Mellouk.
Civil society victory
“The Senate took a very important step – this is a historic vote and a success for civil society organizations who have been highlighting the consequences of patents all these years. Now it is up to the Chamber to ratify, and even improve, the proposal that seeks to facilitate access to vaccines and life-saving drugs. We need to reverse the outcome of this war against COVID-19,” said Pedro Villardi, coordinator of the Intellectual Property Working Group (GTPI).
Now it is up to the Chamber to ratify, and even improve, the proposal that seeks to facilitate access to vaccines and life-saving drugs – Villardi.
GTPI, as well as the Brazilian Interdisciplinary AIDS Association (ABIA) and the Médecins Sans Frontières Foundation were thanked by the rapporteur for their contribution to the debate and shaping of the Bill.