Fact Check: An Expanded TRIPS Waiver is Unnecessary

Claim: On March 29, the International Trade Commission held a hearing on the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) proposed suspension of Covid-19 therapeutic and diagnostic intellectual property rights by expanding the TRIPS waiver.

James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, claimed that expanding the waiver would foster increased access to therapeutics and diagnostics — suggesting that there exists a shortage of supply for low-and-middle-income countries.

Correction: There is no intellectual property-based shortage of therapeutics and diagnostics in low-and-middle-income countries. The issue of accessibility has nothing to do with intellectual property, but rather demand. Private-sector pharmaceutical companies have entered into almost 150 public-private collaborations to increase access to therapeutics and diagnostics. In 2022 alone, the global demand for Pfizer’s Paxlovid, a Covid-19 therapeutic, only reached approximately 35% of production capacity.

However, faulty government infrastructure and unreliable distribution sources do pose barriers to more widespread uptake in many low-and-middle-income countries. In fact, governments and non-governmental organizations have only been successful in distributing about one-third of the treatments destined for low-and-middle-income nations.

Love’s claim suggests that the WTO should allow for compulsory licensing, which would essentially strip manufacturers of their intellectual property rights. Rather than increase supply, which already outstrips demand, a compulsory licensing regime will decrease the manufacturers’ ability to produce reliable and safe therapeutics and diagnostics. Already, “An estimated 1 in 10 medical products in low- and middle-income countries is substandard or falsified,” according to the WTO. This issue will only worsen by allowing governments to strip manufacturers of their intellectual property rights and, therefore, the ability to closely monitor the production and distribution of their products.

Bottom Line: This claim is false.

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