SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa’s president and the head of Oxfam have heaped pressure on World Trade Organization members and manufacturers to allow fairer access to COVID-19 vaccines, including through a waiver on intellectual property rights.
At a WTO public event on trade and COVID-19 also attended by German vaccine maker BioNTech, Cyril Ramaphosa said a waiver on patents was needed to save millions of lives during the pandemic.
“This is not the time just to be uni-dimensionally focused on profit. This is the time to save lives,” Ramaphosa said.
He added that the success of developing countries in combating climate change would require concessional funding to support a just transition.
The WTO began discussions on a waiver to intellectual property rules for COVID-19 products about a year ago but several countries with strong pharmaceutical industries including host Switzerland remain opposed.
Without mentioning the waiver specifically, Oxfam’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said monopolies, not science were the biggest challenge to defeating the virus.
“The reality is the current trade rules enable rich country governments and pharmaceutical corporations to work hand in hand to artificially limit vaccine supplies to developing countries,” she said. “I must appeal to BioNTech – the vaccine has turned your CEO into a double-digit billionaire,” she added.
BioNTech Chief Operating Officer Sierk Poetting said the firm was working as quickly as possible to allow other countries to do their own manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, including of those based on messenger RNA technology like its COVID-19 shot. “Trust us: we will get the local mRNA manufacturing going,” he said.
The number of COVID-19 infections in Africa reached 8,295,563 on Wednesday even as many countries on the continent experience a decline in new cases.
As of Wednesday, data published by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) showed that the continent had conducted 74,877,206 tests since the virus arrived. So far, 210,648 virus-related fatalities have been registered.
South Africa remains to be the hardest-hit country by the pandemic on the continent, having recorded 2,898,888 infections with 87,417 fatalities.
Besides South Africa, two more countries have registered more than 500,000 COVID-19 cases; Morocco (930,891) and Tunisia (706,314).
Countries on the continent have rolled out mass vaccination campaigns in efforts to contain further spread of the virus. However, the continent still lags behind other regions in vaccination numbers, but a recent increase in arrival of doses has ignited hope that vaccine uptake will improve.