Don’t delay action on COVID tests and medicines, 160+ campaigners tell WTO

DoN’T delay action on COVID tests and medicines, 160+ campaigners tell WTO

Release date: 14 December 2022.

  • WTO has a “second chance” to make a difference in fight against COVID-19 after failing on vaccines, campaigners tell director-general.
  • Delaying action, as US has suggested, would be a “damaging blow” to WTO credibility, letter says.

More than 170 charities, NGOs, campaigners, academics, and health and trade experts from 50 countries have called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to ease patents for COVID-19 tests and treatments before the end of 2022.

It comes after the United States called for negotiations to be delayed into 2023. This would push back a 17 December deadline set by WTO members in June, when an agreement was reached on COVID-19 vaccines.

On the eve of crunch WTO talks, organizations including UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, The Yunus Centre, PODER, Oxfam, Amnesty International, and the African Alliance are calling on the WTO’s Director General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to use her influence to ensure that a decision is reached ahead of the deadline.

In a letter, they warn that the WTO “failed the world” in June with an agreement on vaccines that waived few intellectual property rules and did nothing to mandate the transfer of vaccine technology to lower-income countries. “Despite warm words from many Western leaders,” signatories say, “there was no evidence of solidarity at the WTO.”

But the opportunity to bring COVID-19 tests and treatments into the deal’s remit is a “second chance” for the WTO “to make a meaningful impact in the fight against COVID-19”, they say. This is because there are fewer barriers to producing generic tests and treatments.

Any delay to a deal on tests and treatments “would be a damaging blow to the WTO’s credibility”, signatories warn, urging the Director General to “publicly resist the deliberate attempts from rich nations to delay negotiations beyond 2022”.

United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai wants the deadline to be postponed, while the US International Trade Commission conducts a review at her request. Reports have suggested a decision could be delayed by at least six months. “That would mean another six months without access to tests and treatments for people in the global south,” signatories warn.

The plea to the WTO director-general comes after pressure from Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), calling on the European Commission to publicly state that it is in favour of a deal on treatments and tests.

Valentina Montanaro, Global Campaign Head, People’s Vaccine Alliance said:

“It has been almost three years since the alarm was first raised over COVID-19. From those early days, there were warnings that WTO rules would make it harder for developing countries to access vaccines, tests, and treatments. Yet, the WTO risks ending another year without taking meaningful action to respond to the pandemic.

Countries in the Global South should not have to wait for the United States to conduct a lengthy internal review before they can protect their populations. Another delay would be an insult to all those who have died from COVID-19 without access to effective medical tools. The WTO Director-General must step in and insist on a resolution this year.”


Notes to editors

The full letter and list of signatures is available here:

The WTO reached a deal on vaccine intellectual property in June, pledging to agree on whether to extend the decision to cover tests and treatments within six months. The deadline is 17 December:

Last week, the US called for the deadline to be pushed back:

Just one in every fifty COVID-19 tests is administered in a low or middle-income country, despite these countries accounting for 84% of the world’s population:

There is very little publicly available data on access to COVID-19 treatments. However, orders of Paxlovid, the Pfizer-produced treatment with the highest recommendation from the WHO, indicate that three quarters of all orders will go to rich countries:

Dr. Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance and special envoy to WHO ACT-A, has said that “zero” doses have reached low-income countries:

Many low and middle-income countries, particularly in Latin America, are excluded from licensing agreements for generic versions of COVID-19 treatments. This means they could pay $250 for a course of treatment instead of $25/course for a generic equivalent – ten times as much:

The pharmaceutical company lobbying operation against an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments, was revealed in an investigation by Politico and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism:

Media contact

Joe Karp-Sawey, senior media advisor, People’s Vaccine Alliance

[email protected]