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EU must urgently reconsider opposition to TRIPS waiver - Mary Robinson

  •  Former President Mary Robinson and Nobel Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire call on President Biden to waive intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines 

16 April 2021

Today, former Irish President and UN Human Rights Commissioner, Mary Robinson called on EU’s leaders “to put the collective right to safety for all ahead of everything else - and come together to end this pandemic”. Robinson’s comments come after news that US President Joe Biden is considering supporting a patent waiver of intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines at the international level. 

The waiver of intellectual property rules, known as the TRIPS waiver, would allow for a scale up in manufacturing globally, overcoming artificial supply constraints while helping to reduce further distribution crises.  

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “The continuance of monopoly control by a small number of vaccine makers, and the resulting global vaccine inequality, is leaving millions of lives hanging in the balance by putting corporate profit before people. 

 “Oxfam fully support Mary Robinson’s call for EU leaders to urgently reconsider their opposition to the TRIPS waiver - and offer their full support . By doing this, the European Union will not only save millions of peoples’ lives, but also mitigate the risk to our economies and the current backslide in workplace gender equality.” 

Earlier this week, the former Irish President added her name to an open letter to Biden. The letter was sent to the White House as news spread about the pausing of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine – which will severely hinder vaccine roll out plans across the world, including in Ireland.  

Alongside Robinson, Nobel Peace Laureate, Mairead Corrigan Maguire and more than 150 former heads of state and Nobel laureates, called on President Biden to support the TRIPS waiver and pursue a people’s vaccine to end the pandemic.  

While there have been some welcome steps to increase the supply of vaccines to poor countries, including from Ireland, they remain insufficient when compared to the scale of the Covid-19 threat. 

In February, Oxfam Ireland, along with a number of organisations, networks and health professionals wrote an open letter to Micheál Martin, urgently requesting Ireland’s support for this temporary emergency waiver, which is currently supported by more than 100 nations. 

Clarken concluded: “To control the virus, the simple reality is, enough vaccines need to be produced in different geographies, priced affordably, and allocated globally. Low-income countries should not be forced to wait for vaccines to trickle down to them.

 “Ireland has a well-deserved reputation of supporting the human rights of the world’s poorest people. At this critical moment in history, we should reaffirm our values and leadership on the world stage by, as the letter to Biden states, choosing ‘to put the collective right to safety for all ahead of the commercial monopolies of the few’. 

 “Covid-19 is a public health crisis, and as such demands a global solution. It is time to break from old ways, and pave new ones that we can all have an equal footing on."

END 

Contact 

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165 

Editor's Notes 

  • See Mary Robinson's op-ed in the UK Times here.
  • The full letter to President Biden and list of signatories can be found here

The letter specifically asks President Biden to support a proposal from the South African and Indian governments at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive intellectual property rules related to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. At the current pace of vaccine production, most poor nations will be left waiting until at least 2024 to achieve mass Covid-19 immunisation.

The leaders also called for the intellectual property waiver to be accompanied by the open sharing of vaccine know-how and technology, and by coordinated and strategic global investment in research, development, and manufacturing capacity, especially in developing countries, underscoring that threats to public health are global and require global solidarity-based solutions.       

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK prime minister; François Hollande, former French president; Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the USSR. 

The letter, which was coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 organisations including Oxfam, UNAIDS, Global Justice Now and Avaaz, warned that at the current global immunisation rate, it was likely that only 10 percent of people in the majority of poor countries will be vaccinated in the next year.  

  • The open letter sent to Micheál Martin in February by an Irish Coalition can be found here.  

 

 

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Born in Yemen in 2015, war is all he has ever known

“I don’t want to live in this place, I just want to go home.”

Six-year-old Omar* is tired. He’s tired of the wind, of the rain, of moving from one place to the next.

Born in Yemen in 2015, the year the war started, war is all Omar has ever known. Not long after his arrival, his family were forced flee their home in Nihm District, Sana’a Governorate.

“In 2015, we were living in security and stability in our villages, houses and farms,” says his 45-year-old father Salem*. “We used to grow crops and eat from that. Water supply was always provided by government. We got food from our own farms.

“I also had a monthly salary from the government. I used to work in the security department. Everything was just fine.”

Then the war started and everything changed.

Salem and his son Omar in Alswidan Camp, Marib Governorate. Photo: Kaff Media/Oxfam

The family fled their village, leaving most of their belongings behind. For a while, they lived in caves and drank water from nearby ponds. They moved again – first to Alkhaniq camp, then to Algadaan, where they stayed for six months, until August 2020, before the conflict forced them to flee once more.

It is a difficult and uncertain life for a family already grieving the loss of a loved one. Salem’s third-oldest child, his 15-year-old son, was struck by a car and died in December 2020.  

The family eventually moved to Alswidan camp, four to five days away by foot. “I didn’t have any vehicle to transport my children nor my stuff, so I had to send my children with other passengers separately,” said Salem.

“Our life nowadays in Alswidan camp is difficult because of the harsh climate and storms… When we first arrived here, we faced a strong storm which tore apart our tents and we were told that we will be given new tents.”

The family of seven live in a 12sqm tent. So far, there have been fires in six tents in the camp due to families having to cook inside their shelters. But there are other risks too, Salem explains.

People in the camp are always afraid of military actions that could hit them any time. We all live in anxiety… I live with fear about my family and my family sleep and wake up frightened. All families, not just my family.

Salem says that they have not received any food aid in more than a year. And water is limited. “Water supply is just 500 litres for each family no matter how big or small the family is,” he continues. Some people have animals to raise, I have a few goats which help me in my living.

“They provide us with only 500 litres of water for five or six days. Sometimes water supply is provided for two months and stopped for another month.

“As for the health services, we have a clinic that provides basic medicine only. One day, my youngest boy asked his brother to bring him some water to drink… The older boy gave him too much water until his lungs were filled with it. I took him to the clinics nearby but they couldn’t rescue him. So, I had to take him to a private hospital and I spent 48,000 YR (€160) in three days. I didn’t have that amount of money but his mother did have some jewellery.”

Salem* and Omar's* story

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Salem wants a better future for his children. He wants them to have an education – something that they have missed out on in recent years – and to live in peace.

It’s what Omar dreams of too.

“When I grow up, I want to be a teacher so I can teach other children and go back home," he says. "We go back home and never have to leave it again. I don’t want to live in this place, I just want to go back home.”

*Names changed to protect identities.

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People's Vaccine Alliance survey shows urgency of vaccinating all countries

Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam

An epidemiologist is an expert in the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases. In “normal” times, you don’t hear much about them, and they rarely make the news.

But these aren’t exactly normal times, are they?

Epidemiologists from some of the world’s leading academic institutions have recently made the headlines, delivering a stark warning about the risk the world is taking by failing to ensure all countries have sufficient vaccines to protect people from Covid-19.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of over 50 organisations including Oxfam, African Alliance and UNAIDS, surveyed 77 epidemiologists from 28 countries in March. The overwhelming majority – 88 percent – agreed that persistent low Covid-19 vaccine coverage in many countries would increase the risk of vaccine-resistant mutations.

Two-thirds of those surveyed think we have a year or less before Covid-19 mutates to the extent that the majority of first-generation vaccines are rendered ineffective, and new or modified vaccines will be required.


And almost three-quarters of epidemiologists, virologists and infectious disease specialists from institutions including Johns Hopkins, Yale, Imperial College, Columbia University, Cambridge University, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Cape Town said that open sharing of technology and intellectual property could increase global vaccine supplies.

The findings support and show once again the urgency of the People's Vaccine Alliance call to lift pharmaceutical monopolies to allow for the sharing of Covid technology to urgently boost vaccine supplies globally.

So what are the experts saying?

The more the virus circulates, the more likely it is that mutations and variants will emerge, which could make our current vaccines ineffective. At the same time, poor countries are being left behind without vaccines and basic medical supplies like oxygen. 

“As we've learned, viruses don't care about borders. We have to vaccinate as many people as possible, everywhere in the world, as quickly as possible. Why wait and watch instead of getting ahead of this?

Devi Sridhar, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh

With millions of people around the world infected with this virus, new mutations arise every day. Sometimes they find a niche that makes them more fit than their predecessors. These lucky variants could transmit more efficiently and potentially evade immune responses to previous strains. Unless we vaccinate the world, we leave the playing field open to more and more mutations, which could churn out variants that could evade our current vaccines and require booster shots to deal with them.

We all have a self-interest in ensuring that everyone around the world, no matter where they live have access to Covid-19 vaccines. The virus doesn’t respect borders and new variants somewhere on the planet mean none of us are safe.

Gregg Gonsalves, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at Yale University

As nations start to expand their vaccination programmes we are once again reminded about our interdependence. High coverage rates and herd immunity in one country or region of the world while others, particularly low- and middle-income countries, continue to wait in line will create the perfect environment for the virus to continue to mutate and negate the benefits of any vaccine protection.

In contrast, there are enormous benefits for everyone to have more equitable access to available doses of vaccines and achieve herd immunity globally sooner. As scientists, advocates, and decision-makers we must ensure that as many people are vaccinated all over the world and as soon as possible so that we can all focus our efforts in rebuilding our communities, livelihoods, and economies and know that we are all safe from Covid-19 and be better prepared for the next pandemic.

Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA and Professor in Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University

Heba Shalan, a mother and nurse from the Jabalia Refugee camp in the Gaza Strip is putting her life on the line caring for patients with Covid-19. Photo: Marwas Sawaf / OXFAM

The survey shows that it is imperative for the safety of all citizens in all countries that people everywhere are vaccinated as soon as possible; our failure to tackle global vaccine inequality heightens the risk of further mutations. 

Despite this imperative, wealthy countries’ continued defence of the monopolies of pharmaceutical giants means that global supplies are being artificially rationed, with a handful of companies deciding who lives and who dies.

In March, wealthy countries – including Ireland – blocked a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines. The People’s Vaccine Alliance urges them to reconsider when talks resume at the World Trade Organisation this month.

The Alliance is also calling for all pharmaceutical corporations working on Covid-19 vaccines to openly share their technology and intellectual property through the World Health Organisation Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, in order to speed up and ramp up the production and rollout of vaccines to all countries. 

If we were in a war with a country called Covid, would governments leave vital decisions on production, supply and price in the hands of arms-producing companies?  

Given vaccines are our most crucial weapon in the fight against Covid-19, world leaders must take control to enable the World Health Organisation’s Covid Technology Access Pool to facilitate sharing of technology and intellectual property so that all capable companies can maximise global vaccine production.

Dr Mohga Kamal Yanni, Senior Health Policy Advisor to The People’s Vaccine Alliance

The survey was carried out between 17 February and 25 March 2021.

The respondents were from the following 28 countries:  Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Guatemala, India, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Norway, Philippines, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, UAE, Uganda, UK, USA, Vietnam, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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Missed Fashion Relief TV? Don’t worry, you can still bag a bargain!

Tuesday 13 April 2021

Friday 9 April saw the return of Fashion Relief TV – Lorraine Keane’s sustainable fashion fundraiser with Oxfam Ireland!

Missed it? Don’t worry, you can still tune in and shop any time at www.fashionrelief.ie.

Earlier this year, Lorraine teamed up with broadcaster and fashion designer Brendan Courtney for a nationwide donation drive. Thanks to the generosity of some of Ireland’s most fashionable women, and boutiques from Dublin to Dingle, the Fashion Relief team was back with a bang on Friday, showcasing rails of pre-loved, brand-new and designer pieces.

The show featured designer labels like Preen, Celine, Ganni and Alexander McQueen, and much-loved Irish labels including Aideen Bodkin, Louise Kennedy and Fee G.

And while some of the fabulous items were snapped up on Friday, there are still some amazing bargains to be had, including this brand-new Preen dress at an incredible price:  

Preen one-shoulder tulle trimmed red midi dress. New with tags. RRP €1,119 | Fashion Relief Price (FRP) €295
DKNY Tan Trench Coat with belt and leather detail. Preloved RRP €295 | FR Price €70
Ganni Newman: Floral print gathered maxi dress by cool Danish brand Ganni. Donated by Lorraine Keane. Original RRP €295 | FRP €110
FRNCH Coat: FRNCH mid-length coat is designed in a gorgeous orange and white wool mix adding a smart tailored look to your spring look. Original RRP €165 | FRP €55

“Thanks to the generosity of donors we have created our very own little Fashion Relief circular economy – as long as people continue to donate fabulous items, we will continue to have fabulous bargains up for grabs,” said Lorraine.

“When Covid hit, Fashion Relief pivoted to an always-on online platform with the tech knowhow of our incredible partners, Axonista, so we could continue to offer our supporters amazing bargains with the added bonus of shopping more sustainably while also supporting Oxfam’s global work to beat poverty."

Fashion Relief is part of Oxfam’s solution to ‘throwaway fashion’, encouraging people to donate pre-loved items and reduce the amount of clothes that end up in landfill as well as shopping second-hand to give pre-loved clothes a longer life. So, by bagging a bargain from Fashion Relief you’ll be shopping more sustainably and doing your bit for people and planet.

“I’ve seen first-hand how the profits raised by Fashion Relief help some of the poorest and most at risk people through Oxfam’s work. Even though things may have slowed down or come to a stop here, humanitarian crises are continuing, and in some cases worsening across the world,” Lorraine continued.

Just three weeks ago, a massive fire swept through the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. The fires left 10,000 families displaced and in urgent need of basics like food and water. Hundreds more were injured. This was yet another devastating blow to the Rohingya people who fled shocking violence and persecution in Myanmar. Oxfam continues to be able to support and respond to events like this because of the generous support of people across Ireland.
If you have any designer and high-quality clothes or bags you’d like to donate to Fashion Relief, email Aisling at aisling.wallace@oxfam.org to order a pre-paid, pre-addressed Fashion Relief donation bag. Simply pack the items in your donation bag and bring them to your local post office. You can donate up to 12 items at a time.
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