Jul 20 (IPS) – “Vaccine equality is the challenge of our time,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), told the opening address. “And we fail” at a special ministerial meeting of the Economic and Social Council.
Earlier, G7 leaders wrote a letter of support declaring that richer countries should pay the cost of vaccinating low- and middle-income countries.
The United States announced that it would donate 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to COVAX to deliver COVID vaccine doses to countries in need. In addition, several countries have pledged support for an exemption from intellectual property restrictions, which would allow countries to generically manufacture the vaccine to increase production and supply.
While these are essential steps in the right direction, a global system in which poor countries are unable to develop and manufacture their own vaccines to meet their demand is unsustainable; especially when faced with potential future pandemics.
Rigorous measures, with global solidarity and commitment to build global vaccine equity and ensure the last person gets the vaccine in both rich and poor countries before the next global health crisis hits. This is a time when internationalism is winning over nationalism, and globalism works better than local.
There is arbitrary disparity in vaccine procurement and distribution worldwide, which has hit the countries of Asia and Africa the most. According to the World Health Organization, of the 832 million vaccine doses administered, 82% went to high or upper middle-income countries, while only 0.2% went to low-income countries.
According to a United Nations report, in high-income countries alone, 1 in 4 people have been vaccinated, a ratio rapidly falling to 1 in 500 in low-income countries.
This unequal access to vaccines is rooted in the power, influence and control of a few rich countries that have determined vaccine allocation. In the beginning, despite COVAX’s commitment to vaccinate the world’s population, Western countries developed vaccines individually, in bulk, more than needed, collected and vaccinated all of them, including their young, who are considered less risky.
Citizens of low-income countries faced shortages, even those at risk from COVID-19. As a result, many countries have lagged behind.
In the South, countries have welcomed and celebrated the “noble” decision of rich countries to donate overflowing vaccines. However, we need to step back to understand why countries need donations in the first place.
Our struggle to access vaccines is a result not of our current shortcomings, but of our long history—many of which is weighed down by the legacy of violent colonialism. If poor countries depend on donated vaccines, it is a sign that the global health system is not working. Global Health has failed in this pandemic.
It’s not just about buying doses. A painful history of unequal power relations has shifted resources from low- and middle-income countries to their high-income counterparts.
We are working on a persistent lack of support for the infrastructure with which countries in the South can independently direct scientific development. In addition, our material resources and human capital have supported the northern economies for decades.
This is compounded by the problem of brain drain, which draws talent from low- and middle-income countries to their high-income counterparts, perpetuating dependency and inequality. For example, it is estimated that internationally working researchers from low-income countries produce 10 times more patents than their compatriots at home.
Scientific and health sovereignty are strategic drivers for equal access to health.
Rich countries are often praised for their help and donations. Progress can be made if we move from charity to rights-based models.
To support development efforts, international cooperation and cooperation that countries need, international cooperation that enhances local capacity and expertise, enables the country’s infrastructure and retains the talent to generate innovation at home, is critical. It is about human rights, social justice and equality.
In the short term, developing countries must be able to produce and access vaccines fairly. This includes easing the World Trade Organization’s trade-related access to international property rights to allow countries to produce vaccines on the spot.
In the long term, international cooperation between countries is urgent. For example, Argentina’s Sputnik-V vaccine program involves collaboration between the Gamaleya Institute, the Russian Investment Fund, and a national pharmaceutical company, Richmond Lab, to develop and manufacture vaccines for Argentina and the southern cone. This kind of collaboration is strategically important to expand vaccine production and increase investment in technology in developing countries.
Regional cooperation will strengthen the health and technology sectors in developing countries. In recent months, AstraZeneca vaccines have been produced between Argentina, which produces the active ingredient of the product, and Mexico, which then completes and fills the doses.
COVID is a global threat today. There will be more serious threats in the future. Let the lesson from the crisis not be in vain. Together, in solidarity, we can all do our part to advance our shared vision of a just world. It has taken an extraordinary drive to develop the vaccine. Reimagining Global Health should be about the conscious intent to get this vaccine to the last person.
Jonathan Konafino MD, MSc, PhD is a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity and Professor of Public Health at Universidad Nacional Arturo Jauretche and George Washington University. Minister of Health in the Municipality of Quilmes, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Shubha Nagesh is a doctor by training and Global Health Consultant. She currently works for The Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun, India. She is a Senior Atlantic Fellow in Global Health Equity.
© Inter Press Service (2021) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service