Covid-19: African countries castigate inequalities in vaccine distribution at the UN

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Some call on member states to relax intellectual property rights to increase production

The inequity of the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine was highlighted on Thursday as many African countries whose populations have little or no access to life-saving vaccines spoke out at the annual meeting of world leaders of the ‘UN. Some called on member states to relax intellectual property rights in order to expand vaccine production.

“No one is safe unless we are all safe,” was the common refrain.

“The virus does not know continents, borders, let alone nationalities or social status,” Chadian President Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno told the General Assembly.

“Countries and regions that are not vaccinated will be a source of the spread and development of new variants of the virus. In this regard, we welcome the repeated calls by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Director-General of the World Health Organization for access to the vaccine for all. The salvation of mankind depends on it.

The fight to contain the coronavirus pandemic has featured prominently in speeches by leaders over the past few days – many of them delivered at a distance exactly because of the virus. Country after country, countries have recognized the great disparity in vaccine access, painting such a grim picture that a solution has sometimes seemed impossible to achieve.

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called vaccines “the greatest defense available to humanity against the ravages of this pandemic”.

“It is therefore of great concern that the global community has not supported the principles of solidarity and cooperation to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines,” he said. “It is an indictment against humanity that over 82% of vaccine doses worldwide have been acquired by rich countries, while less than 1% have gone to low-income countries.”

He and others urged UN member states to support a proposal to temporarily waive certain intellectual property rights established by the World Trade Organization to enable more countries, especially low-income countries and intermediary, to produce Covid-19 vaccines.

Angolan President Joao Lourenco said it was “shocking to see the disparity between some countries and others in the availability of vaccines”.

“These disparities make it possible to administer third doses, in some cases, while in other cases, such as in Africa, the vast majority of the population has not even received the first dose,” said Lourenço.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany and Israel are among the countries that have started administering boosters or have announced their intention to do so.

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Namibian President Hage Geingob called it “vaccine apartheid,” a notable reference given the country’s own experience with apartheid when the white minority government in neighboring South Africa controlled South West Africa, the name of Namibia before its independence in 1990.

Benido Impouma, program director of the WHO Africa program, noted during a weekly videoconference that the increase in the number of new cases of Covid-19 is starting to abate in Africa “but with 108,000 new cases, over 3,000 lives lost last week and 16 countries still resurgent, this fight is far from over.

“Further increases in cases should be expected in the coming months,” Impouma said. “Without widespread vaccination and other public and social measures, the continent’s fourth wave will probably be the worst, the most brutal to date. “

At a world immunization summit convened virtually on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced that the United States would double its purchase of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccines to be shared with the world at 1 billion doses, with the goal of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population over the next year.

The move comes as world leaders, aid groups and global health organizations raise their voices over slow global immunizations and unequal access to vaccines among residents of wealthier countries. and the poorest.

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The WHO says only 15% of pledged vaccine donations – from wealthy countries that have access to large quantities of vaccine – have been delivered. The United Nations health agency has said it wants countries to meet their dose-sharing commitments “immediately” and make the injections available for programs that benefit poor countries and Africa in particular.

Biden earlier this year broke with his European allies to agree to waivers of intellectual property rights for vaccines, but there was no movement on Wednesday towards the needed global consensus on the issue required by the rules of the ‘World organization of commerce.

While some nongovernmental organizations have called the waivers vital in boosting global vaccine production, U.S. officials concede that this is not the most compelling factor in inequitable vaccine distribution – and some privately doubt that the waivers for very complex vaccines would lead to improved production.


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