Past Event

Sussex Development Lectures

Vaccine apartheid, the TRIPS moment, and non-alignment as a form of commoning

18 May 2023 16:00–17:30

Institute of Development Studies (IDS) Online on Zoom

This Sussex Development Lecture will explore how, in 2020, South Africa and India brought a proposal to the World Trade Organisation to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 medical goods so that poor countries could manufacture Covid-19 vaccines and medicines instead of relying on the charity of rich countries.

Watch live at 4pm

They pointed out that these medical goods had been developed through a global human effort involving billions of dollars in public funding and an international network of scientists who freely contributed their data to a common pool to track the epidemiology of the disease, and to map the Covid genome and host genetics.

Millions of citizens in turn contributed as participants in randomised controlled trials used to develop vaccines and treatments. However, pharmaceuticals and universities in the US, Germany and the UK successfully lobbied their governments for the right to exclusively patent the ensuing medical goods and generate record-breaking profits.

More than 100 countries, largely from the non-aligned Movement, together with an international network of trade unions and NGOs, supported the original TRIPS waiver proposal. But in June 2022, after 20 months of sustained opposition from a handful of wealthy countries, companies and foundations in the global North, the proposal finally failed. As the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, E. Tendayi Achiume commented, the consequence of this is a global system of “vaccine apartheid.”

The TRIPS proposal is therefore only the beginning of a much longer fight, and has reanimated conversations about intellectual imperialism and rich countries ‘kicking away the ladder’. This panel will reflect on this international contestation between different conceptualisations of knowledge – as a private good and as a common good, and how it has opened up possibilities for approaching the politics of non-alignment as a politics of commoning.


  • Ekaette Ikpe, Reader in Development Economics in Africa, and Director of the African Leadership Centre at Kings College London.
  • Hyo Yoon Kang, Reader in Law at the School of Law, University of Warwick
  • Peter van Heusden, bioinformatician at the South African National Bioinformatics Institute.
  • Priti Patnaik, founding editor of the Geneva Health Files


  • Nimi Hoffmann, Lecturer in International Education and Development, Centre for International Education and Sussex Humanities Lab, University of Sussex

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