“Equal Health and Medical Access on COVID-19 for All! Japan Network” (hereafter “the Japan Network”) is a group of Japanese civil society organizations established to call for the equal access to vaccination and other medicines for COVID-19. AHI is one of the member organizations, recognizing that the present global trade policies especially on intellectual property rights on medicines may affect the health of people. The network has submitted the request to the Japanese Government, which was supported by over 100 organizations including AHI alumni’s organizations. Here is the outline of the official dialogue of the network with Government of Japan held on February 17, 2021.
Intellectual property rights as an obstacle to global access to COVID-19 medicines: discussions in WTO
Vaccination against COVID-19 has begun in many parts of the world. On the other hand, many developing countries have very inadequate access to vaccines and other prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19, which is an obstacle to end the pandemic globally. One of the factors is the monopolization of new medicines and technologies by intellectual property rights. Therefore, a proposal by South Africa, India and 11 other countries for a waiver from intellectual property protection for prevention, containment and medical treatment of COVID-19 until the end of COVID-19 pandemic is currently being considered by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Official dialogue between government and civil society in Japan on 17 February
The Japan Network held an official meeting on with the relevant ministries of the Japanese government to officially submit the CSO’s request and hold a dialogue. Regarding the Japanese Government’s opposition to the waiver proposal, we urged them to support or not to oppose this proposal in order to expand access to COVID-19 healthcare in developing countries. We also called for their cooperation for the C-TAP (COVID-19 Technology Access Pool) established by the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote the sharing of new technologies related to COVID-19, and to strengthen support, including funding, for the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which is a collaborative mechanism of global health international organizations to Representatives of Japan Network at the official meeting to accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 medical tools comprehensively in technology development, production and equitable access, and to promote active dialogue with civil society on these issues.
We expressed our concern about the serious situation in developing countries and called for support for the waiver proposal as an effective way for the international community to respond quickly in a cooperative manner.
Government maintains ‘opposition’ to the waiver proposal but makes some progress in its statements
While the Government of Japan maintains its opposition to the South African Indian proposal, it expressed that they share common stance that equitable access to healthcare is important for the global response to COVID-19. They said they would further monitor whether intellectual property rights are a barrier to access to healthcare in developing countries. In the subsequent dialogue, the Government’s response was basically the same as before, but with more positive comments on continuing dialogue with civil society, extending support to the ACT Accelerator and its vaccine partnership, COVAX Facility, and considering to publish the Japanese Government’s statements at the WTO on its website. We believe that some progress has been made in this regard. The issue will continue to be discussed by the WTO’s TRIPs Council on 23 February and by the WTO General Council on 1-2 March. It is imperative that we speak out in solidarity with civil society around the world to ensure that fair access to healthcare in developing countries is achieved as soon as possible.