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Frontline health workers of Pakistan laud US support for TRIPSS waiver on Covid-19 vaccines

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Frontline health workers of Pakistan have appreciated the United States’ announcement to support for waiving intellectual property (IP) protection for Covid-19 vaccines. The US decision is a breakthrough in India and South Africa’s attempts to get World Trade Organisation (WTO) member countries to agree to such a waiver to fight the pandemic equitably.  

As governments meet for the World Trade Organisation General Council over two days (May 5-6)  and will consider the TRIPS Waiver proposal to suspend patents on Covid-19 vaccines and other technologies, community health workers from Pakistan, known as Lady Health Workers (LHW), wrote to twelve waiver-sceptic governments to urge them to share the vaccine and support the TRIPS waiver.

LHWs are an essential workforce of almost 124,000 women from economically vulnerable backgrounds entrusted to deliver vital primary health services, such as maternal and child health, family planning and health promotion, and act as a liaison between the formal healthcare system and neglected communities.

“We write on behalf of the front-line community health workers of Pakistan to urge your government to support the proposal of India and South Africa, among several other countries, for a “Waiver From Certain Provisions Of The TRIPS Agreement For The Prevention, Containment And Treatment Of Covid-19”, reads the letter signed by Halima Leghari Zulqarnain, President of the All Sindh Lady Health Workers and Employees Union, and Musarat Basharat, General Secretary of the Punjab Ladies Health Workers Union.

Pakistan is still fighting to eradicate polio and despite the extraordinary times being faced due to the Covid pandemic, front-line health workers such as Lady Health Workers are expected to run the campaign for polio vaccination without being protected against Covid-19.

“Our members are risking their lives to keep the community safe. They are contributing to the pandemic response, supporting our communities, and delivering essential public health services. Many have contracted Covid-19 as a result of their work. We know the difference it makes to a vaccination program to be free of intellectual property protection. The polio vaccination campaigns we lead would not have been possible if the rights to it were held by one pharmaceutical company,” said Ms. Basharat.

Pakistan, like other countries, is facing challenges in accessing enough vaccines at affordable prices to inoculate its population against Covid-19. As a result, the Senate passed a Resolution in early April asking for vaccines to be available for free, or at affordable rates.

“Inadequate vaccination is leaving the door open for further mutations to occur and extend the pandemic. According to epidemiologists, low vaccine coverage in any countries makes it more likely for vaccine-resistant mutations to appear, rendering the vaccination campaigns that are currently underway ineffective. That is why we asked governments of rich countries to support the Covid-19-related waiver. If not for us, for their own sake, they need to share the vaccine,” maintained Ms. Halima Leghari.

“We welcome the announcement of US government, led by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, of their support for the waiver, and we urge other countries, to whom we have written letters to follow suit,” concluded Halima Leghari.

All Sindh Lady Health Workers and Employees Union (ASLHWEU), and Punjab Ladies Health Workers Union (PLHWU) have written letters to the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, UK, USA, and the European Commission to seek their support for  the waiver.

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