EU-AU summit makes big promises on health, but not on IP waivers –

European and African leaders made a number of pledges to ensure equitable access to vaccines following a two-day summit in Brussels on Friday (February 18th). However, no decision on the lifting of intellectual property rights has been taken.

Ensuring “fair and equitable access to vaccines” was high on the agenda of the sixth EU-AU summit.

The final declaration promised to act with a series of initiatives, including the EU reaffirming its commitment to provide at least 450 million doses of vaccines to Africa, in coordination with the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), by mid-2022.

“Team Europe” – the name chosen by the EU to support the efforts of third countries in the fight against the pandemic – has also pledged to provide more than 3 billion dollars (2.65 billion euros, the equivalent of 400 million doses of vaccine) to the COVAX facility and vaccination on the African continent.

The “Team Europe” also plans to mobilize 425 million euros to accelerate the pace of vaccination and support efficient distribution, training of medical teams and capacity for analysis and sequencing in coordination with the Africa CDC.

“On health, we have had in-depth discussions on how to be pragmatic and efficient when it comes to developing and producing vaccines in Africa,” European Council President Charles Michel said during the meeting. of the final press conference.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the AU Commission, added:

“We have 1.3 billion people [on our continent], we cannot sit around waiting until we can import vaccines. (…) We have an African agency, which has just been created. We have Africa CDC, which works on pandemics. We have the instruments. With the support of our friends, these issues should be handled locally.”

“In short (…) I think this summit is the only one where we really had a different debate. We had a frank discussion,” Mahamat continued.

The Senegalese Sall also stressed the need to act against cancer, saying that “in half of African countries, we do not have radiotherapy facilities”.

Technology transfer in six African countries

Another element of health that has been talked about a lot is the transfer of technology.

On Friday morning, the World Health Organization and its director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus held a “ceremony” with the heads of EU institutions alongside French President Emmanuel Macron and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

They announced that Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia would be the first six recipients of the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines in Africa from the South African technology hub. .

“Initially, they [the chosen countries] will benefit from this technology, this training and all the regulatory environment necessary for this type of process. The only issue we need to consider is intellectual property rights,” Sall said.

IP waivers haunted the summit

There was great anticipation ahead of the summit over whether the talks could lead to the temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights to vaccines, an idea the EU has so far resisted. No solution was found at the top.

According to the final declaration of the summit, the AU and the EU pledged to “engage constructively towards an agreement on a comprehensive WTO response to the pandemic, which includes trade-related aspects. as well as aspects related to intellectual property”.

“We have different ways to achieve this goal. There must be a bridge between these two paths”, declared the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, referring to “a very good, intense and constructive discussion on the question of the TRIPS derogation”.

The two leaders will work together and provide a solution no later than the spring, she added.

Ramaphosa, however, clarified earlier in the day that he did not find “acceptable that Africa is consistently at the back of the queue in access to medicines” and that donations are “appreciated”, but “never from a sustainable way”. or a mechanism to build resilience.

Ramaphosa says the issue of the TRIPS waiver is now an ‘awkward point’ – but, once approved, it will ensure freedom of action for entities with the required capacity and provide a platform to upgrade existing capacities .

Two months ago, the South African president expressed his disappointment with rich countries “who only give us the crumbs of their table”.

Speaking at the ceremony, he was equally firm in his position: “Governments that are really serious about ensuring that the world has access to vaccines should ensure that the TRIPS waiver is approved (…) rather than hide behind intellectual property, initiator profitability,” Ramaphosa concluded.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna and Nathalie Weatherald]

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