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Africa seeks EU help on global vaccine-waiver

  • Fewer than 5 percent of people in Africa have had two jabs (Photo: UNICEF Ethiopia)
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African countries are seeking EU help on waiving vaccine patents to combat the pandemic at an upcoming meeting in Rwanda.

"The AU reiterated its support for the Trips Waiver and urged the EU to engage constructively towards conclusion of a targeted and time-limited Trips Waiver which is critical to a WTO [World Health Organisation] response to the Covid-19 pandemic," the African Union (AU) is keen to say in a joint communiqué after European and African foreign ministers meet in Kigali on 25 October, according to a draft, dated 13 October, seen by EUobserver.

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Trips stands for "trade-related aspects of intellectual-property rights".

A WTO ministerial meeting in November is to decide whether to waive these for vaccines, tests, and other Covid-related medical devices so long as the pandemic lasts.

Fewer than 5 percent of people in Africa have been fully vaccinated, compared to over 70 percent in wealthy EU states.

And the imbalance posed a global danger, because novel Covid variants more easily emerged in low-vaccine regions.

But the EU Commission supported "compulsory licencing" instead of a WTO waiver, Antonio Fernandez-Martos, an EU trade official, told MPs in Brussels on Thursday (14 October).

"This is what can actually deliver increased manufacturing," he said.

Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands were also trying to scupper the WTO-waiver move, according to the Geneva-based medical charity Médecins sans frontières (MSF).

"Even though France, Greece, Italy, and Spain have already come out in support of the waiver, another handful of governments in the EU with strong ties to pharmaceutical corporations is choosing to put shareholder interests over the lives of people across the globe," MSF said this week.

The AU's appeal was in the draft Kigali declaration in square brackets, meaning it might well be cut from the text.

Meanwhile, the EU wanted to say merely the WTO should do its best to help "including through trade-related aspects of intellectual property".

For those lucky enough to have been inoculated, the AU also wanted them to get the perks of EU vaccine-passes.

Several EU states have begun making vaccine-certificates mandatory for travel or access to public places.

They only recognise vaccines approved by the EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency in Amsterdam, but not others, such as India's 'Covidshield', even if these have "emergency-use" approval from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

"Ministers therefore encouraged all member states, including the EU, to recognise all vaccines with WHO emergency-use listing", the AU also wanted to say in Kigali.

But the EU aimed to say instead: "Ministers encouraged ongoing efforts to develop a Covid vaccination certificate [in Africa] with a view to its recognition as equivalent with the EU digital Covid certificate".

Other parts of the draft communiqué spelled out how hard coronavirus had hit Africa.

It spoke of "the unprecedented negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on economic growth, trade, agriculture, employment, the tourism industry, inflation, and on external sources of finance, as well as increase of the external debt of African countries".

It "underscored the negative effects" of the pandemic "on food security and nutrition".

And it noted that migrants, both those moving around inside Africa and those who went to the EU, were especially at risk.

"Migrant workers are highly impacted by lay-offs or losing their businesses, in particular those in the informal economy. The crisis is also likely to have long-term impacts on migration management and integration policies, accounting for the resulting increase in unemployment and underemployment both in Africa and Europe", it said.

Take them back

The draft text also called for African countries to take back migrants rejected by European states.

"They [EU and AU ministers] committed to abide with the obligation of states to readmit their own nationals illegally present on the territory of another state. They engaged to strengthen cooperation on return, readmission and reintegration, including promoting voluntary return," it said.

It said next-to-nothing on African conflicts, such as the one raging in Ethiopia.

"Ministers recalled the need for strengthened AU-EU cooperation on peace and security challenges at all levels and during all phases of the conflict cycle," it said.

And it said nothing on China or Russia, despite EU worry Russia was sending mercenaries to the Sahel and Libya, while China was buying up strategic infrastructure.

With ultra-conservative European states such as Hungary policing EU declarations to strike out language on "gender" or LGBTIQ rights, the EU side added, also in brackets, that it was "committed" to protecting "sexual and reproductive health and rights" in Africa.

And the draft "recognised the importance of cultural assets to Africa's identity and economy".

But the AU wanted to add the line "and cultural-asset recovery", following centuries of European looting of African art and antiquities.

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