South African president welcomes United States’ support for waiver of COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property restrictions

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday welcomed the support of the United States’ Biden-Harris administration for a temporary and targeted waiver of intellectual property protections that apply to COVID-19 vaccines.

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses Basic Education Lekgotla. This annual event will be held under the theme: "Equipping Learners with Knowledge and Skills for a Changing World". 
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses Basic Education Lekgotla. This annual event will be held under the theme: “Equipping Learners with Knowledge and Skills for a Changing World”.

The United States government announced on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, that the COVID-19 pandemic was a global health crisis which called for extraordinary measures.

The United States said it believed strongly in intellectual property protections. However, in service of ending the pandemic, it would at forthcoming negotiations of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) support the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, and members of the senior staff listen to a briefing in the conference room on Air Force One en route to Houston, Texas, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, and members of the senior staff listen to a briefing in the conference room on Air Force One en route to Houston, Texas, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2021. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

President Ramaphosa welcomed the position adopted by the United States as an important reinforcement of a campaign led by South Africa and India on behalf of emerging economies that face vaccine shortages and production challenges.

He said the anticipated temporary waiver provides a global response to COVID-19. The proposal establishes a global solution to enhance manufacturing and boost supply capacity, and enables coordination and access to information currently under patent protection.

For countries that do not currently have manufacturing capacity on certain medical technologies, the waiver could open up more supply options and avoid countries being reliant on only one or two suppliers. Where supply-capacity currently exists, it can be repurposed to COVID-vaccine production and in this way improve the supply available to all nations.  

President Ramaphosa said the forthcoming WTO negotiations provide the global community, and especially leading economies, with both an opportunity and the challenge to act in the best interest of all humanity.

This can be achieved by focusing on the moral, legal and economic benefits of providing urgent, affordable and equitable protection to all people around the world in the face of a grave and indiscriminate threat to life and economic sustainability. 

“In light of the growing global consensus, we call on pharmaceutical companies to facilitate sharing of know-how and technology to enable a rapid increase in supply-capacity in order to save lives,” said the South African presidency.

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