Patient entering Covid-19 consultation tent.

Lack of a real IP waiver on COVID-19 tools is a disappointing failure for people


More than 20 months since India and South Africa first proposed a landmark intellectual property (IP) Waiver for COVID-19 medical tools at the World Trade Organization (WTO), governments have reached a decision at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva from June 12-15. The decision text contains a set of clarifications of the existing public health safeguards and a limited exception for the procedure of using compulsory licensing for export of COVID-19 vaccines by eligible countries, for a duration of five years. 

Dr Christos Christou, International President of Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), issued the following response to today’s disappointing news: 

“We are disappointed with the inadequate outcome on waiving intellectual property for COVID-19 medical tools that resulted from more than 20 months of deliberations.   

We acknowledge that a few changes were made to the agreement that mitigated some of the most worrisome elements of the earlier text presented in May 2022. But overall, we are disappointed that a true intellectual property waiver, proposed in October 2020 covering all COVID-19 medical tools and including all countries, could not be agreed upon, even during a pandemic that has claimed more than 15 million people’s lives.”  

“Despite… words of solidarity, it has been discouraging for us to see that wealthy countries failed to resolve the glaring inequities in access to lifesaving COVID-19 medical tools for people in low- and middle-income countries.”




MSF International President Christos Christou portrait
MSF International President, Dr. Christos Christou, visited our COVID-19 emergency projects in Rondônia, Brazil. In Porto Velho, the state’s capital, MSF supports Emergency Care Units (known locally as UPAs). Due to the over-saturated health system as a result of COVID-19, the UPAs, which usually only manage the stabilisation of patients before they are transferred to higher level facilities, are having to take in more complex patients than they were designed to handle. In Ji-Paraná, MSF supports the Municipal Hospital. Due to the pandemic’s strain on the town’s public health system, the hospital is now a COVID-19 referral center.Diego Baravelli

“This agreement fails overall to offer an effective and meaningful solution to help increase people’s access to needed medical tools during the pandemic; it does not adequately waive intellectual property on all essential COVID-19 medical tools, and it does not apply to all countries. The measures outlined in the decision will not address pharmaceutical monopolies or ensure affordable access to lifesaving medical tools, and will set a negative precedent for future global health crises and pandemics.   

Throughout the pandemic, MSF has repeatedly pointed out the challenges and struggles faced by frontline healthcare workers in providing care for people with COVID-19. Despite lofty political commitments and words of solidarity, it has been discouraging for us to see that wealthy countries failed to resolve the glaring inequities in access to lifesaving COVID-19 medical tools for people in low- and middle-income countries. 

Without agreement on a true global solution to ongoing access challenges, we now urge governments to take immediate steps at the national level to make sure people have access to needed COVID-19 medical tools. Governments should consider using all available legal and policy options. This includes suspending intellectual property on COVID-19 medical tools, issuing compulsory licenses on key medical technologies to overcome patent barriers, and adopting new laws and policies to ensure the disclosure of essential technical information needed to support generic production and supply.   

MSF also calls on governments to take concrete steps to rethink and reform the biomedical innovation system to ensure that lifesaving medical tools are developed, produced and supplied equitably where monopoly-based and market-driven principles are not a barrier to access. It is time to prioritize saving lives instead of protecting corporate and political interests.”