MSF. Doctors Without Borders, COVID-19, patents on vaccines
Access To Medicines

Delivering on the Pledge of Global Solidarity: WTO Rules and a global COVID-19 IP waiver

To: Ambassadors to the Repubic of South Africa

Didier Vanderhasselt, Embassy of Belgium
Ambassador Tobias Rehfeld, Embassy of Denmark
Aurélien Lechevallier, Embassy of France 
Dr. Martin Schafer, Embassy of Germany 
Dr. Paolo Cuculi, Embassy of Italy 
Han Peters, Embassy of the Netherlands 
Manuel Cavalho, Embassy of Portugal 
Carlos Fernandez-Ariaz, Embassy of Spain
Håkan Juholt, Embassy of Sweden 
Maruyama Norio, Embassy of Japan 
Sergio Franca Danese, Embassy of  Brazil 
Astrid Helle, Royal Norwegian Embassy
Nicolas Bruhl, Embassy of Switzerland 
Riina Kionka, Delegation of the European Union 
Chargé d’Affaires John Groarke, Embassy of the U.S. 

High Commissioner Gita Kamath, High Commission of Australia
Acting High Commissioner Chris Cooter, 
High Commission of Canada 
High Commissioner Nigel Casey, British High Commission


We write to you as civil society organizations, patient groups, healthcare workers, academics, activists working on access to medicines and social justice to draw your attention to the proposal before the World Trade Organization (WTO) that seeks a time-limited waiver from provisions on granting and enforcing certain intellectual property (IP) for COVID-19 medical products and technologies.  

At the end of the last century, IP monopolies on HIV treatments led to a 10-year delay between when people living with HIV in Africa, Latin America, and Asia got access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy, compared with those living with HIV in the US, European Union, Switzerland, UK, and Japan. This led to millions of unnecessary deaths between the late 1990s and mid-2000s till patent barriers were addressed and generic HIV medicines became available. 

Once again, in this pandemic, we have witnessed how the structural inequality in global health has resulted in the ongoing struggle for timely access to COVID-19 medicines, vaccines, and other needed tools in developing countries. People living in developing and least developed countries once again are facing the real and emerging challenges brought by restrictive approach to intellectual property and technologies on COVID-19 vaccines, medicines and other essential medical tools that can hinder timely universal access.  

The Waiver Proposal comes at this critical moment in the pandemic, envisaging a time-limited and complementary policy space within the WTO framework that could empower governments to take more automatic and expedited actions domestically to address IP challenges on production, supply and access to COVID-19 medicines and other technologies. The proposal mitigates the obvious limitations of some of the existing legal options that require a product-by-product approach to provide a clear and consistent direction during a public health emergency to prevent monopolies delaying access and costing lives.

To date, over 100 countries have welcomed or supported the proposal in some form. Nearly 400 civil society organizations globally  and international organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, UNITAID, human rights experts, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights  have urged you and other governments to get behind the waiver proposal as a matter of urgency.

We understand that both informal and formal negotiations among member countries are underway.  Instead of consolidating global solidarity, and joining the support for the Waiver Proposal, the European Commission on behalf of the European Union has so far chosen not to support the initiative along with a small group of other WTO members.

It is now clear that the longer the virus circulates in unprotected populations, the higher the probability is for more transmissible mutations to occur affecting all countries, including countries opposing the waiver proposal, increasing the complexity of control and prolonging the pandemic. In the face of such a crisis where timely access to all tools for preventive, testing, containment and treatment options is imperative, your opposition is simply untenable and self-defeating.  

The waiver proposal at WTO provides an important opportunity to prevent a tragic repetition of the past. With this letter, we request the Belgian/French/German/the Netherland/ /Italian/Spanish/Swedish government to urge the European Commission to support the proposed waiver or at the very least stop obstructing the adoption of the proposed waiver in the WTO.

A similar letter has been shared with Ambassador Riina Kionka, Head of the European Union Delegation to the Republic of South Africa.


The following organisations part of the South African People’s Vaccine Campaign sign on this letter

Abahlali baseMjondolo
Active Citizens Movement
Active Citizens Movement – Pietermaritzburg
Africa Revival Foundation
Africa Unite
African Alliance
African Centre for Biodiversity
Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
AIDS Foundation of South Africa
Alexandra Peace Ambassadors
Alternative Information Development Centre
Amadiba Crisis Committee
Amandla Collective
Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Asijiki Coalition
Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute (ASRI)
Belle and Company
Bench Marks Foundation (BMF)
Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, UCT Graduate School of Business
Black Sash
Bo-Kaap Ratepayers and Civic Organisation
Botshabelo Unemployed Movement
Bryanston 2 CAN
C19 People’s Coalition Basic Needs Working Group
C19 People’s Coalition Cash Transfers Working Group
C19 People’s Coalition Gauteng
C19 People’s Coalition Health Working Group
C19 People’s Coalition Media Group
C19 People’s Coalition Workers’ Rights Working Group
Cancer Alliance (Representing 29 Organisations)
Centre for Applied Legal Studies
Centre for Education Rights and Transformation
Centre for Social Change – University of Johannesburg
Children’s Radio Foundation
Children’s Resource Centre
Children’s Rights Ministry
Christian Development Trust Foundation (CDTF)
Citizen Surveys
Citizens Network Africa
Claremont Main Road Mosque
Coastal Resources Centre
Community Development Foundation Western Cape
Community Safety Campaign
Congress of South African Students (COSAS )
Connect Network
Corruption Watch
Critical Art and Design Revolutionary Education (CADRE)
Delphi Capital Partners International
Democracy Development Program
Democratic Municipal and Allied Workers Union of South Africa (DEMAWUSA)
Denis Hurley Centre
DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security, UWC
eduACTION Community Education SA
Eluthandweni Maternity Health Services
Environmental Monitoring Group
Equal Education
Extinction Rebellion Nelson Mandela Bay
Extinction Rebellion South Africa
Ficksburg Community Advice Office
Fight Inequality Alliance South Africa
Foundation for Human Rights
Gauteng Housing Crisis Committee
Gauteng Together
Global South Against Xenophobia (GSAX)
Gugulethu Can
Health Justice Initiative
Human Rights Forum
Human Rights Institute of South Africa
iKhaya eLitsha Hub
Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa
Institute for Economic Justice
Institute for Economic Research on Innovation
Institute for Poverty, Land & Agrarian Studies (PLAAS), UWC
International Labour, Research & Information Group
Inyanda National Land Movement
Johannesburg Against Injustice
Just Associates (JASS) South Africa
Kadesh International
Katlehong CAN
Keepleft/Socialism from Below
Kensington CAN (Johannesburg)
Khanyisa Education and Development Trust
Lameze Abrahams Psychologists
Lawyers For Human Rights
Legal Resources Centre
Lifa Lesive Community Development Agency
Maitland Garden Village Housing Forum
Marikana Support Campaign
Market Users Committee (MUC)
Masifundise Development Trust
Media Monitoring Africa
Molly Smit Events
Molo Songololo
Mopani Farmers Association
Mosu/Buhari Collective
Mowbray & Rosebank CAN
Muslim Youth Movement
National Labour & Economic Development Institute (NALEDI)
National Union of Care Workers of South Africa (NUCWOSA)
New Unity Movement
Nkuzi Development Association NPC
Noordhoek & Fish Hoek CAN
Norwood, Orange grove And Houghton (NOAH) CAN
Open Secrets
Organizational Culture Consulting
OUTA (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse)
Outreach Foundation
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Pan African Chamber of Commerce
People’s Health Movement – South Africa
Progressive Health Forum
Public Affairs Research Institute
Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM)
Public Services International
Refugee Social Services
Rural Health Advocacy Project – Division of WITS Health Consortium
Rural Women’s Assembly – Free State
SA BDS Coalition
Sakha Isizwe Drop In Centre
SAMWU Back-to-Work Campaign
SARChI Chair in Gender Politics
School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape
SEATINI – South Africa
Seriti Institute
Siyakholwa Support Centre
Society Work & Politics Institute
Socio-economic Rights Institute of South Africa
Sonke Gender Justice
Sophiatown Community Psychological Services
South Africa Rural Women’s Assembly
South African Council of Churches Gauteng
South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU)
South African Development Community CNGO (SADC-CNGO)
Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA)
Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI)
Southern African Green Revolutionary Council (SAGRC)
St. Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Hatfield
StellCARE: Stellenbosch & Districts Family Services
Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute
Tafelsig Mitchells Plain CAN
Takuwani Riime(Stand up) Foundation
TB Proof
The Desmond Tutu Health Foundation
The Orginization Undoing Tax Abuse
Transformation in Action Skills NPO
Treatment Action Campaign
Trust for Community Outreach Education
Tshintsha Amakhaya (TA)
Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group
Wattville CAN
Western Cape Forum for Intellectual Disability
WoMin African Alliance
Workers’ World Media Productions
Young Hearts for Palestine
Young Nurses Indaba Trade Union (YNITU)
Youth in Action – Middledrift
Zero Waste Association of South Africa

The following organisations from the Fix the Patent Law Campaign sign on this letter

Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), 
Doctors Without Borders (MSF), 
The South African Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (SANCD Alliance), 
Marie Stopes South Africa, 
the Stop Stock Outs Project (SSP), 
the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), 
Cape Mental Health (CMH), 
The South African Federation of Mental Health (SAFMH), 
The Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorders Alliance (SABDA), 

as well as the following members of the Cancer Alliance and Advocates for Breast Cancer: 

AmaBele Belles’ Project Flamingo and Project Peacock , 
Breast Course 4 Nurses, 
Breast Health Foundation, 
Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), 
Cancer Heroes, Can-Sir, 
Care for Cancer Foundation, 
Childhood Cancer Foundation of South Africa (CHOC), 
Hospice Palliative Care Association (HPCA), 
Igazi Foundation, 
Look Good Feel Better, 
Love your Nuts, 
Lymphoedema Association of South Africa (LAOSA), 
Men's Foundation, 
National Council Against Smoking, 
National Oncology Nursing Association of SA, 
Pancreatic Cancer Network of SA (PanCan), 
People Living With Cancer (PLWC), 
Pink Trees for Pauline, 
Pink Phoenix Cancer Foundation, 
Pocket Cancer Support, Rainbows and  Smiles, 
Reach for Recovery, 
South African Oncology Social Work Forum (SAOSWF), 
The Pink Parasol Project, 
The Sunflower Fund, 
Vrede Foundation and Wings of Hope.