COVID-19 tests

Photo: CDC

As the World Trade Organization meets this week, students across the country are pushing the Biden administration to support more access to COVID-19 tests and treatments globally.

The WTO General Council meets Thursday and Friday. At the meeting, University students will urge the U.S. to back expanding a temporary waiver of Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights beyond vaccines. The expansion would make it easier for countries such as India and South Africa to produce tests and treatments.

Jasmine Zettell, an intern for the Trade Justice Education Fund and a student at the University of Washington, said the waiver would help more people get the vaccine more quickly.

"If we are able to waive that intellectual property right for other countries to produce tests and treatments, then we can see the test and treatment strategy being rolled out in low- and middle-income countries," Zettell explained.

Letter-writing campaigns and rallies to put pressure on the Biden administration are going on at schools across the country this week, including at the University of Washington. Industry groups for the producers of COVID-19 therapeutics say expanding the waiver will undermine the ability of the U.S. to innovate and compete.

Zettell countered there is a pressing need to expand access to the products in other parts of the world.

"This kind of ongoing inequality of putting big pharmaceutical monopolies and capitalistic gains over human rights is causing huge numbers of avoidable hospitalizations and deaths each day," Zettell argued.

Zettell hopes creating more awareness about the issue will spur her fellow students to speak out.

"At our university, we really have ample access to COVID resources," Zettell noted. "So I feel some students are taking that for granted and are not necessarily aware of the reality that low- and middle-income countries are experiencing by not having these resources."