The ‘Compromise’ Version of the TRIPS Waiver and the Illusion of Victory
Latin American student members of UAEM call on their governments to reject the TRIPS waiver compromise.

The Global South has been subjugated to the world economic order for centuries. This isn’t news to us. But the COVID-19 pandemic has started one of the most acute chapters in this story as, for over two years, we have witnessed our people dying en masse.

In response to this unsustainable yet critical situation, countries from the Global South banded together in October 2020 to urge the World Trade Organization (WTO) to adopt measures that would mitigate the pandemic’s effects in their territories and save people’s lives. India and South Africa, rooted in their own historical struggle with intellectual property rights, demanded a waiver from certain provisions of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.

In spite of this clear demand from the Global South for solidarity, more than one year later, this debate has been continuously and shamefully postponed at the WTO. Pressured by transnational corporations, a minority of the so-called ”developed countries” have been hindering the negotiations. All the deaths and suffering have been reduced to an immense theater in which powerful players have been trying their best to delay, narrow or completely block the end of this dramatic show. 

And now, the most recent move of this ”profit-over-lives” coalition has just come to light. A leaked document reveals the details of a ”compromise” that “would end this deadlock” at the WTO. Veering away from the original proposal, the scope of this leaked text would firstly, be restricted to vaccines (excluding other important health technologies, such as treatment and testing formulas) and secondly only apply to patents (excluding other important IP rights, such as trade secrets, industrial designs and copyrights).

 Antivirals remain inaccessible

Free the Vaccine activists in San Francisco held a memorial for all those who had died of COVID-19 and called for support for the TRIPS waiver.

Baricitinib, for instance, a costly WHO-recommended drug  for the treatment of people with severe or critical COVID-19, would remain scandalously inaccessible in many countries in the Global South. Most patents on it will not expire until 2029. Instead of expanding access to generic versions of this life-saving drug, the ”compromise” text would in fact endorse this unacceptable situation. It is only fair to label this as an extremely harmful deal even worse than the one we already have, actually.

It’s quite clear to us that what has been called a ”compromise” is, in fact, just another clear example of the historical subjugation of the Global South. What has been claimed as a solution to a ”deadlock” is nothing more than a late, ineffective and disrespectful way to silence our suffering.

 However, despite being a move that is yet another traditional illusionary act, these economic powers haven’t been able to sell this ”compromise” as a credible victory for humanity or as a reasonable solution. The truth is we’ve come to a place in history where they are so comfortable that they don’t even bother to mask it anymore.   

Don’t accept this ‘compromise’

We urge our countries not to accept this “compromise”. But even if our governments, pressured by the global politics of power, decide to shut their eyes to their own populations and capitulate, we want to make it clear: we are not our governments. We know this is the same old story. It’s just ”business as usual”. And we will not buy it as a victory.

 Successive defeats are not undermining our hope. The fact that our open letters, opinion pieces and multiple claims haven’t been heard has not discouraged us. On the contrary. Things are clearer than ever and so is our mission. These setbacks are boosting the rise up of a whole new force: a growing number of young activists has engaged with and reinvigorated our movement. The post-TRIPS generation is becoming aware of what has happened. We are just understanding what has been done to our parents, what is planned for ourselves and what you’re intending to do to our children.

Rooted in our ancestors’ struggles and aware of the transformations of our era, we are ready to answer our own historical call and keep fighting for justice. The COVID-19 apartheid is a bomb that is exploding now and will be surely heard later. In spite of its apparent stability, it is not wise to take the IP system for granted. The time to honor our dead is coming and no unfair system will be able to resist us.

This is neither a threat nor a juvenile lament. This is simply a direct statement from a great number of hearts that are sick of all this suffering and injustice. This is an inevitable result of centuries of exploitation and indifference. Do not underestimate our resilience. The times they are a-changin: now is time to heed the call and completely abandon all sorts of illusory victories.

Alan Rossi Silva
Luciana MN Lopes

Alan Rossi Silva and Luciana M. N. Lopes represent Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), a global student-driven organization in defense of universal access to medicines and a fair biomedical innovation system. Alan is a PhD candidate in Law at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) and Luciana is a PhD student in Public Health at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), in Brazil. She is also the Executive Director for UAEM in Latin America.



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