Last October India and South Africa appealed to the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive patent or intellectual property (IP) rights such that COVID-19 production and distribution worldwide could be accelerated. As of a month ago 80% of COVID-19 vaccines had gone to those in in high or upper middle income countries while only 0.2% had gone to those in low income countries - meaning it was projected to take until 2024 to inoculate developing world populations. The Trump administration opposed a waiver. In early May, the Biden administration announced it would support a so called TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver over the opposition the European Union (EU) and the pharmaceutical industry - though Moderna announce last fall it would not enforce its COVID vaccine-related patents). Along with recent administration announcements to purchase and distribute over 500 million vaccines worldwide, the administration has evidently recognized the moral imperative and the fact COVAX, the WTO's initiative to pool vaccine resources, remains profoundly underfunded.
During this 26 minute conversation Ms. Krishtel moreover explains why the Biden administration was unprecedented, the definition of a waiver, its timing and the practical issue of tech transfer. She goes on to address or refute the industry's objections to a temporary waiver and discusses more generally inherent problems with the market-driven US patent system. Among other issues, it undermines the purpose of public investment, socializes risk while privatizing profits (or places profits over people) and slows the worldwide diffusion of pharmaceutical know how.
Ms. Priti Krishtel is the co-founder of Initiatives for Medicines Access and Knowledge (I-MAK), a non-profit building a more just and equitable medicines system. She has spent nearly two decades exposing structural inequities affecting access to medicines and vaccines moreover across the Global South. Of late this work includes advocating for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the globe and helping to ensure the Biden administration prioritizes equity the US Patent and Trademark Office's work. I-MAK's work on the patent system has been cited repeatedly in Congressional testimony on prescription drug costs, most recently in hearings by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. To improve equity in the patent system, I-MAK recently developed a new tool called Participatory Changemaking that will provide an assessment of the patent system and bring together stakeholders from across the stakeholder spectrum, from patients to investors and policymakers, to drive sustainable, long-term change into what has long been an exclusionary process. Ms. Krishtel and I-MAK have also put out a 10 point plan for the Biden administration to bring equity into the patent system. She is a recent TED speaker, Presidential Leadership Scholar, and an Ashoka Fellow.
For information on I-MAK go to: https://www.i-mak.org/.
Ms. Krishtel's recent British Medical Journal article noted during this discussion is at: https://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/373/bmj.n1344.full.pdf.
The Ink interview noted during this interview is at: https://the.ink/p/doses-are-charity-knowledge-is-justice.