From ally to active partner: Indonesia 62nd country to co-sponsor the TRIPS waiver

  • There is rapidly growing support for the TRIPS waiver – a proposal first tabled by India and South Africa – to suspend intellectual property (IP) protections on essential medical supplies related to COVID-19.
  • More than 100 countries support the waiver, and the advocacy work of civil society in Indonesia brings the total number of co-sponsors up to 62.
  • The proposal was initiated on 2 October 2020 – nearly 8 months ago. The World Trade Organization meets 8-9 June 2021 to discuss the waiver. We believe there is no time left for talking – it’s time for action. The vaccine rollout is grossly uneven – the world cannot continue to wait. All WTO members must support taking back control of our vaccines and medicines.

On 7 May 2021, Indonesia’s government declared its support for the TRIPS waiver proposal. On 11 May, the same government officially declared that it would co-sponsor the TRIPS waiver proposal. In a matter of five days, Indonesia switched from its position as a supporter, to play a more active role in demanding IP protections are waived, to enable equal and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. The story behind this decision shows what can be achieved when governments have the political will, and work together with civil society.

“In early May the [Indonesian] government informed that us they were supporting the TRIPS waiver, but we strongly believed that if we want to be fully committed with the effort, we should be co-sponsoring rather than being satisfied with simply supporting”, says Aditya Wardhana, Executive Director of the Indonesia AIDS Coalition (IAC). “So we requested a meeting with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Minister himself met us on the same day. By that evening, there was a team in place from MoH dedicated to the TRIPS waiver issue, working with us. It was quite amazing”.

We believed we must be fully committed and co-sponsor the waiver – there was a team in place that evening – Wardhana

The team included a civil society delegation (IAC), the Minister of Health, his special advisor, the Head of Foreign Affair Partnerships within MoH, and the Director General of Pharmaceutical and Health Devices. The team will continue beyond this initial meeting, it is concerned not only with access to vaccines, but also with building a self-sufficient structure for production, in order to enable, not only Indonesia, but all countries to be ready to produce their own vaccines should the TRIPS waiver be approved.

“We hope that this step will bring us to a better and faster action in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic”, says Wardhana.

Five days is all it took for Indonesia to shift its position from supporter to co-sponsor – from ally to active player. Times of crisis require rapid reactions, and nothing is more urgent than an unprecedented pandemic. The sense of urgency required to tackle the pandemic is not reflected by all WTO members. In the eight months since the waiver proposal was presented, the number of global accumulated deaths from COVID went from 1,015,107 to more than 3.5 million.   

More than 2 million more people have lost their lives to COVID-19 since the waiver proposal was first presented.

Typically, it is richer countries, which have purchased enough doses to vaccinate their populations, that are blocking the waiver. However the increasing support brings increasing optimism. When the USA announced its support it stated that “extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures”. In the 8-9 June meeting, all WTO members must demonstrate their support, if commitments made to tackling the pandemic are going to have any chance of being fulfilled.

If not now, when? – Wardhana

“If not now, when?” asks Wardhana. “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted and exacerbated the already acute inequalities in access to health, medications and vaccines. Most high income countries will have their population vaccinated by the end of 2021, while many people in low and middle income countries will die waiting. It is time for governments and civil societies around the world to join voices and efforts. Everyone should have access to life-saving treatments.”