Ease barriers for vax, medicines, says WTO – ET HealthWorld


REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

NEW DELHI: From “fill volume” of 3.51ml instead of 3.5ml to stringent checks on Covax vaccine donations, varying regulatory regimes across countries and high tariffs, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has released an extensive set of restrictions being faced by Covid-19 medicines, diagnostic material and vaccines and their inputs across countries.

While suggesting that its 160-odd members work together to ensure unhindered flow of the crucial material to combat the deadly virus, the global agency for free and fair trade has suggested a set of possible trade-facilitation measures to ease restrictions. In fact, it is not just the poor countries that have been hit by some of the restrictions in Europe and the US, home to Big Pharma, even India has complained of the curbs hitting its fight against coronavirus.

Some of the restrictions were eased after the issue was taken up by PM Narendra Modi with US President Joe Biden when the case count in India was at record levels. WTO has said that there should be global harmonisation of guidelines for medicines to allow faster development of pharmaceuticals and to move more quickly between countries by overcoming conflicting or varying pharmacopeia requirements.

Similarly, for manufacturing vaccines and their inputs, the multilateral body has proposed transparent and predictable investment regimes, along with bilateral and regional agreements to ease import and export restrictions. A predictable tariff classification is seen to be important as well. Given the unpredictability of the regulatory regime for vaccines, WTO has suggested ahost of measures for clearances, including for clinical trials and emergency use. Further, there are general measures, including mutual recognition agreements related to inspection of facilities and sharing of workflow and information between countries and their agencies to accelerate access to essential medical goods. WTO suggested that the timelines for evaluation and approval of medical products and clinical trials could be reduced and the requirements can be aligned globally. There is a huge debate at the WTO on allowing access to vaccines, medicines and diagnostic aids in the poorer countries with India and South Africa suggesting flexibility in the patent regime to enhance supplies.

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