Destitution, hunger and the lockdown
ON March 24, 2020, Narendra Modi had announced that the country would go into a lockdown after four hours! This nation-wide lockdown was to last till the end of May, after which there were local lockdowns but not a general one.
It brought acute hardship to millions of the working poor, among whom the migrant workers’ woes received global attention. What was striking about the Indian lockdown was that, in contrast to virtually everywhere else including the U.S. under Trump, no compensation was offered to the people (except paltry amounts to a few specific target groups) for their loss of incomes because of the lockdown. They were pushed into a situation of income loss, destitution and hunger, from which they had not recovered even months after the lifting of the lockdown.
Patents versus the People
ON October 2, 2020, even before any vaccines against COVID-19 had been approved, India and South Africa had proposed to the WTO that a temporary patent waiver should be granted on all such innovations. In the following months, 100 countries had supported this demand. And on May 5, the U.S., usually the most ardent defender of the patent system, agreed to a temporary patent waiver on anti-Covid vaccines, committing itself to “text-based negotiations at the WTO”.
The basic argument for such a move arises from the urgent need at present to expand vaccine production. A patent works by creating artificial scarcity so that prices are kept high for a longer period and the innovating firm can make profits that are large enough supposedly to recoup the investment made in developing the patented product, but the scarcity of vaccines is precisely what the world can ill-afford at present. When thousands are dying around the world, saving lives has priority over firms’ profits, for which patents on vaccines must be removed.