Public interest law centre Section27 has said that a human rights approach needs to be taken in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
Section27 director Umunyana Rugege stated that once a vaccine became available in South Africa, the most vulnerable, including the elderly and people with underlying conditions, should be prioritised.
She noted that this approach would be inevitable owing to the scarcity of vaccines and resources.
“Prioritising such groups is in line with the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality for everyone and prohibits unfair discrimination on prohibited grounds such as religion, disability, race, gender or social origin, amongst other grounds,” Rugege stated.
The South African government, she noted, was collaborating with the Africa Union and the COVAX initiative to ensure that populations have access to vaccines on a needs basis.
She also noted that there had been significant nationalism around the vaccine, with richer countries acquiring more than half of future stocks of vaccines. These countries represent only 13% of the world’s population.
Rugege stated that South Africa needed to use initiatives such as COVAX to ensure access to possible vaccines and enter into direct deals with pharmaceutical companies for vaccine procurement and local manufacturing.
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority announced that government hoped to receive its first vaccines from the COVAX scheme in the second quarter of next year.
“The South African government has made a proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO), of which it is a member, to temporarily waive all intellectual property in relation to health technologies. This is currently being debated at the WTO and has been co-sponsored by India, Kenya and Eswatini. Unfortunately, many rich countries are opposing this initiative,” Rugege stated.
Section27 is urging all countries to support the proposal to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Council for a temporary waiver of all patents on products needed to test, treat or vaccinate against Covid-19, and to act with urgency.
The organisation says the world needs to prioritise the needs of vulnerable populations above profits and nationalism.
Secton27 is also calling on South Africa’s Department of Trade, Industry and Competition to remedy outdated patent laws.
“The law reform process has been long and has so far resulted in a Cabinet-approved policy on intellectual property, which balances public health. This is important for an adequate medical response to Covid-19 but also other health burdens, including HIV,” Rugege said.
The Fix the Patent Laws Campaign, of which Rugege is a founding member, calls on President Cyril Ramaphosa and Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel to ensure that the country has an intellectual property regime that guarantees equitable access to life-saving vaccines and medicines.