Unequal access to vaccines presents a huge risk to a sustained global recovery and the vaccine business should not be just about profit but about saving lives, President Cyril Ramaphosa said during the opening of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) World Trade Public Forum on September 28.
The WTO World Trade Public Forum is a yearly event that brings together government, business, academia and civil society. This year's discussions centred on trade beyond Covid-19.
“Passing a time-bound, targeted TRIPS waiver is urgent if we are to save millions of lives. This is a proportionate response to the exceptional circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic," Ramaphosa said.
South Africa and India in October 2020 approached the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or the TRIPS Council, calling for a temporary waiver from the implementation and enforcement of TRIPS in relation to the prevention and treatment of Covid-19.
“It is said that less than 2% of adults are fully vaccinated in most low-income countries, compared with almost 60% in high-income countries. This gross inequality is both unjust and counterproductive, as the longer it takes to vaccinate the world’s population, the greater the loss of life, the likelier the emergence of new variants and the longer it will take to achieve sufficient population immunity,” Ramaphosa told attendees of the virtually held forum.
He added that the rapid and equitable roll-out of life-saving medical products was the best response to the virus and the best stimulus plan for a strong, sustained and even economic recovery.
He noted that the WTO had a central role in addressing trade and intellectual property related barriers to boost and diversify the production of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.
“The Economist Intelligence Unit estimates that vaccine inequality will come at a cost of some $2.3-trillion to global gross domestic product between 2022 and 2025. We, therefore, need to reaffirm the principle of global solidarity and the role of open, inclusive multilateralism.”
While there has been some recovery in international trade since the start of the pandemic, Ramaphosa noted that the recovery was uneven and that, as a consequence, the United Nations' 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda had been set back by many years.
“A relatively positive short-term outlook for global trade is marred by regional disparities, continued weakness in services trade and lagging vaccination timetables, particularly in poor countries.
"According to the World Bank, global growth is expected to accelerate to 5.6% this year with only two major economies accounting for a quarter of this growth.
"However, in low-income economies, where vaccination has been slow, growth projections have been revised lower to 2.9%,” said Ramaphosa.
With the lives and livelihoods of billions of people across the world at risk, he urged that the opportunity for a coordinated response not be squandered.
“As we move towards the twelfth Ministerial Conference, we must urgently take bold steps to expand and diversify locations of production to enable all countries to obtain life-saving medical products and technologies,” he said.