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Jesuits in Africa Join over 100 countries to Petition Waiver of Patent Rights on COVID-19

Samples of the COVID-19 vaccine

Members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Africa and Madagascar have, through their leadership, joined over 100 countries across the globe to petition the G20 countries to support the waiver of the patent rights on coronavirus vaccines submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) last year. 

In October 2020, South Africa and India submitted a proposal for a waiver from certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, TRIPS is an international legal agreement between members of the WTO that allows the provision of more extensive protection of intellectual property. 

“We are lending our voice to over 100 countries, 400 civil society organizations globally and international organizations that have already welcomed or supported the proposal,” the leadership of the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) says in the statement submitted to G20 countries with embassies in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

In the statement dated February 22, which JCAM President, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator, signed, the Jesuit Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar add that the petition to the G20 nations adds voice to that of Pope Francis who has underscored the need for COVID-19 vaccine to be made available and accessible to all.

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G20 is an international forum that brings together governments of 20 of the world’s major economies. The members account for more than 80% of world GDP, 75% of global trade and 60% of the population of the planet.

If supported, the waiver proposed by South Africa and India would temporarily ignore patent rights over the COVID-19 vaccine, therefore facilitating increased production and widespread manufacturing of the inoculation.                      

In the February 22 statement, the leadership of JCAM says that opposition to the waiver is “simply indefensible” and “contributing to the deepening global crises of inequality.”

The leadership of the Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar adds that the more the virus circulates in unprotected populations, “the higher the probability of more transmissible mutations to occur, which obviously will affect all countries, including those opposing the waiver proposal.”

As a way forward, the Jesuits urge the G20 countries to petition the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to issue “a new round of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) that would be used to fund rapid scale-up of vaccine production and distribution to developing countries.”

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“This would also be particularly important for the majority of African countries facing a balance of payment shortfalls in the context of COVID-19,” JCAM officials say.

The Jesuits recommend that the funds be mobilized in innovative ways to increase the financing capacity for the COVAX facility.

COVAX is a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The initiative created to reduce vaccine disparity between high- and low-income countries aims to avail the inoculations to developing countries.   

“In order to achieve meaningful results in 2021, COVAX should have guaranteed funds of US$20–40 billion, which it would turn into firm agreements on expanded vaccine production,” the Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar say through their leaders.  

The petition by the leadership of JCAM comes ahead of the March 10-11 meeting of WTO’s TRIPS Council where patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines and other medical products will be discussed.

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