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18 June 2021 | Updated on 18 June 2021

People’s health and rights – and not intellectual property and profit – should be at the centre of responses to the COVID-19 crisis. This is the key message of a joint statement launched by APC and other international, regional and national civil society organisations working at the intersection of technology and human rights.

“We are troubled by the lack of analysis of the human rights implications in the use of digital technologies”

“We are deeply concerned over the fact that access to vaccines and medications is being handled in accordance with a paradigm that puts intellectual property rights and profit over human rights and people's health,” the statement highlights. “We are also troubled by the lack of analysis of the human rights implications that the use of digital technologies has on this matter.”

The statement points to a report by a panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), who declared that the COVID-19 pandemic was preventable. According to them, “weak links at every point in the chain of preparedness and response” led to disaster. The panel also acknowledged the success observed in the development of vaccines at unprecedented speed.

Open data and open science collaboration are key

For the development of vaccines at this speed, open data and open science collaboration were of central importance. One example of such collaboration offered by the panel was the sharing of the virus’ genome sequence on an open platform – which led to “the most rapid creation of diagnostic tests in history.”

These efforts were soon abandoned, however, to prioritise other initiatives, like COVAX, which instead of promoting collaborative coordination based on open models, reaffirmed intellectual property rights – even in the midst of a pandemic – and led to a distorted race that has cast a shadow over the distribution of vaccines. This distribution was not carried out in an equitable or strategic manner, imposing huge burdens on low- and middle-income countries and exacerbating global and national inequalities.

Stopping this tragedy requires solidarity and cooperation in promoting health as a human right, and a sensible use of digital technologies to that end. In that sense, it is crucial that governments and the different stakeholders address the persistent digital exclusion and the intersections of the pandemic situation and the digital divide.

Governments should lift the intellectual property barriers that hinder universal access to health care

Over-reliance on digital technology to monitor the pandemic and provide information and for vaccine administration management has added another layer of exclusion and discrimination of the most vulnerable sectors. As witnessed in India and other countries in the global South, this leads to more exclusion.

It is important that efforts to overcome barriers to responding to COVID-19 include the intellectual property rights regime as a whole. Intellectual property barriers in the fight against COVID-19 have to be recognised and addressed.

Governments should lift the intellectual property barriers that hinder universal access to health care and free COVID-19 vaccination for all.

More information

Read/sign the full statement here.

For interviews with the undersigned organisations, coverage and other press inquiries, contact Leila Nachawati, APC’s media outreach lead:

Check our press section for press releases, publications, multimedia materials and a list of contacts from the APC community.

Follow @apc_news and #HumanRightsOnline on Twitter.