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After 18 months, the fate of a contentious proposal before the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive patent rights for Covid-19 medical products still remains uncertain. The effort was initiated by South Africa and India to widen access to poor countries after wealthy nations quickly locked in supplies for vaccines when the pandemic began more than two years ago. But the pharmaceutical industry has continually balked at the provisions. India and South Africa recently reached a compromise with the U.S., which backs a waiver only for vaccines, and with the European Union.

But the latest version, which was released last week, has angered many public health advocates, who argue the language would actually accomplish little. Whether agreement can be reached by mid-June, when the WTO Ministerial Conference takes place, is unclear.


We spoke with Ellen ‘t Hoen, a global health law fellow at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, head of the Medicines, Law & Policy think tank and a former executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool, a United Nations-backed organization. She discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the text, and why it may leave the world worse off when the next pandemic strikes. This is an edited version of our conversation. 

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