A global system in which poor countries are unable to design and manufacture their own vaccines to meet their needs is unsustainable; especially in light of potential future pandemics. Photo credit: PAHO / Karen González. July 20 (IPS) – “Vaccine justice is the challenge of our time,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), in opening remarks to the gathering. “And we fail” at a special ministerial conference of the Economic and Social Council.
Earlier, the G7 heads of state and government had issued a letter of support stating that wealthier countries should bear the cost of vaccinating low- and middle-income countries.
The United States announced 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 their support for a waiver of intellectual property restrictions that could allow countries to make the vaccine generically in order to increase production and supply.
While these are essential steps in the right direction, a global system in which poor countries are unable to design and manufacture their own vaccines to meet their needs is unsustainable; especially in light of potential future pandemics.
Strict action, with global solidarity and a commitment to build global vaccine justice and ensure that the last person gets the vaccine in rich and poor countries before the next global health crisis hits, is the order of the day. This is a time when internationalism conquers nationalism and globalism works better than localism.
Globally, there is indiscriminate inequality in the procurement and distribution of vaccines, which has hit countries in Asia and Africa hardest. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), of the 832 million vaccine doses administered, 82% went to high- or middle-income countries, while only 0.2% were shipped to low-income countries.
According to a United Nations report, 1 in 4 people were vaccinated in high-income countries alone, a ratio that drops sharply to 1 in 500 in low-income countries.
This unfair access to vaccines is rooted in the power, influence, and control of a few wealthy countries that have set vaccine distribution. Despite COVAX’s commitment to vaccinate the world’s population, Western countries early developed vaccines separately, in large quantities, more than necessary, hoarding and vaccinating everyone, including their young people, who are considered to be less at risk.
Citizens of low-income countries have faced shortages, even those at risk for COVID-19. As a result, many countries have lagged behind.
In the Global South, countries have welcomed and celebrated the “noble” decision by rich countries to donate obsolete vaccines. However, we need to take a step back to understand why countries need donations in the first place.
Our struggle for access to vaccines is not a consequence of our current inadequacies, but of our long history – many of which are tainted with the legacy of violent colonialism. When poor countries depend on donated vaccines, it is a sign that the global health system is not working. Global Health failed in this pandemic.
It’s not just about buying cans. A painful history of inequality of power has resulted in the shifting of resources from low- and middle-income countries to high-income countries.
We are working against a persistent lack of support for the infrastructure that enables the countries of the Global South to advance scientific development on their own. In addition, our material resources and human capital have supported the Nordic economies for decades.
This is exacerbated by the brain drain problem, which pulls talent from low and middle income countries into their high income counterparts, perpetuating dependency and inequality. For example, it is estimated that international researchers from low-income countries produce ten 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 aid and donations – progress can be made as we move from charity models to rights-based models.
To sustain development efforts, international collaboration and collaboration that enables countries to develop international collaboration that improves local capacity and expertise, enables the country’s infrastructure, and keeps the talent to innovate domestically, is vital. It’s about human rights, social justice and justice.
In the short term, developing countries must be able to manufacture vaccines and have fair access to them. This includes easing the World Trade Organization’s trade-related access to international property rights so that countries can manufacture vaccines locally.
In the long term, international cooperation across nations is urgently required. For example, the Sputnik-V vaccine program in Argentina includes a 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 South Cone. This type of collaboration is strategic to expand vaccine production and improve technology investments in developing countries.
Regional cooperation will strengthen the health and technology sectors in developing countries. In the past few months, AstraZeneca vaccines have been manufactured between Argentina, which makes the active ingredient in the product, and Mexico, which then completes and bottles the cans.
COVID is a global threat today. There will be more, more serious threats in the future. Don’t let the lessons of the crisis go for nothing. Together and in solidarity, we can all do our part to advance our common vision of a just world. The development of the vaccine required extraordinary efforts. Reshaping global health should be about the conscious intention of getting this vaccine to the last person.
Jonatan Konafino MD, MSc, PhD is a Senior Atlantic Fellow in Health Justice and Professor of Public Health at Universidad Nacional Arturo Jauretche and George Washington University. Minister of Health, Quilmes Municipality, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Shubha Nagesh is a trained doctor and global health consultant. She currently works for the Latika Roy Foundation, Dehradun, India. She is a Senior Atlantic Fellow in Global Health Equity.
(2021) – All rights reserved