Sunday, 20 Jun 2021

Malaysia calls for overhaul of pharma patent system in 'new age of pandemics'

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia has called for a total transformation of pharmaceutical intellectual property (IP) amid hoarding of Covid-19 vaccines by richer nations, stating that equitable access is a key challenge in what it believes will be a “long century of recurring health emergencies”.

While Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Thursday (May 20) welcomed the United States’ stated intention to support a temporary waiver of IP protection for coronavirus vaccines, he criticised Washington for exporting just 1.1 per cent of its total production. The US alone has taken up 20 per cent, or 252 million doses, of the global supply of vaccines, he added.

“Pausing the gears is not enough. Our obligation is to dismantle it entirely. And Asia must lead the way in opening up patent protections to produce cheaper generic versions of life-saving medicines for critical diseases, from Covid-19 to HIV/Aids,” he said in a pre-recorded speech at the start of the 26th International Conference on The Future of Asia, an annual forum organised by Japanese media giant Nikkei.

He criticised “man-made hurdles” to suppressing the pandemic “as quickly as possible to prevent mutating variants that make the current vaccines obsolete” as the wealthiest 27 countries have cornered 35.5 per cent of the global vaccine supply despite making up only a tenth of the world’s population.

Although the Premier received Malaysia’s first Covid-19 vaccine in February, the nation’s quest for herd immunity by end-2021 has been hampered by slow delivery of the 66.7 million doses it has purchased. These are enough to immunise 110 per cent of its 32.7 million population. But to date, less than 800,000, or under 2.5 per cent of its residents, have been fully inoculated.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin pointed out how China and India have exported around 200 million and 66 million vaccine doses, approximately half and a third of their total production, respectively. The US has only shipped out three million doses, while the United Kingdom has exported one million doses, or just 4 per cent of its production.

“With epidemiologists warning that we have entered a new age of pandemics… the temporary IP suspension must give way to a total transformation of the pharmaceutical patent system,” he added.

Referring to Article 25(1) of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said “it is high time for these innovations – drugs, vaccines and medical devices – to be brought out of the purview of individual patent rights and for global property rights to be created instead”.

Mr Muhyiddin suggested a global fund be set up for health-related open source innovation through a worldwide network of research units, so that the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of “Good Health and Well-being” can be achieved.

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