Says no country is out of the woods
By Chioma Obinna & Gabriel Olawale
The World Health Organisation, WHO has said that the COVID-19 pandemic is being perpetuated by a “scandalous inequity” in vaccine distribution, even as it set new targets for protecting people in the poorest countries.
Director-General of the global health body, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made the remark on Monday in Geneva, Switzerland, warned that no country should assume that it is “out of the woods”, no matter its vaccination rate, as long as the COVID-19 virus and its variants spread elsewhere.
Tedros who spoke in Geneva at the opening of the 75th World Health Assembly, WHA, told the annual assembly of health ministers from its 194 member states, that the world remains in a very dangerous situation.
Observing that more than 75 percent of all vaccines had been administered in just 10 countries, he said: “As of today, more cases have been reported so far this year than in the whole of 2020. On current trends, the number of deaths will overtake last year’s total within the next three weeks. This is very tragic.
“There is no diplomatic way to say it: a small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world,” he said.
The COVAX facility, run by WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance, has delivered 72 million vaccine doses to 125 countries and economies since February – barely sufficient for 1 percent of their populations, Tedros said.
He urged countries to donate vaccine doses to COVAX to enable 10 per cent of the populations of all countries to be inoculated by September and 30 per cent by year-end. This meant vaccinating 250 million more people in just four months, he said.
“This is crucial to stop disease and death, keep our healthcare workers safe, reopen our societies and economies,” Tedros said.
Tedros also called on vaccine manufacturers to give COVAX the first right of refusal on new volumes of vaccines or to commit 50 per cent of their volumes to COVAX this year.
“Many have themselves become infected, and while reporting is scant, we estimate that at least 115,000 health and care workers have paid the ultimate price in the service of others. For almost 18 months, health and care workers all over the world have stood in the breach between life and death,” Tedros said.
The WHO and others have created Covax, a global vaccine-sharing programme, but it remains severely underfunded and has faced significant supply shortages, delaying efforts to roll out jabs in poorer countries.
To date, only 0.3 percent of COVID vaccine doses have been administered in the world’s poorest countries, which are home to nearly 10 percent of the global population.
At war with Covid-19
The world is at war against COVID-19, Tedros said, calling for the application of wartime logic to the inequitable access to the weapons needed to fight the pandemic.
Also speaking, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres decried what he described as the “tsunami of suffering” sparked by the coronavirus crisis.
He pointed out that more than 3.4 million people have died and some 500 million jobs had disappeared since the disease first surfaced in China in late 2019.
“The most vulnerable are suffering most, and I fear this is far from over,” Guterres said, stressing the ongoing dangers of “a two-speed global response.”
“Sadly, unless we act now, we face a situation in which rich countries vaccinate the majority of their people and open their economies, while the virus continues to cause deep suffering by circling and mutating in the poorest countries,” he said.
“Further spikes and surges could claim hundreds of thousands of lives, and slow the global economic recovery,” he said, insisting that “Covid-19 cannot be beaten one country at a time.”
Faced with this dire situation, Guterres urged recognition of the fact that “we are at war with a virus.”
“We need the logic and urgency of a war economy, to boost the capacity of our weapons,” he said.
Vaccine task force
The UN chief last week called on the G20 to set up a task force that brings together all countries with vaccine production capacities and others who can help boost the manufacturing of vaccines and other tools needed to battle COVID.
“It should aim to at least double manufacturing capacity by exploring all options, from voluntary licenses and technology transfers to patent pooling and flexibility on intellectual property rights,” he said.
The task force should also address the equitable global distribution of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.
In addition to battling COVID-19, Guterres stressed the importance of preparing for the next pandemic, backing a range of recommendations put before the assembly for reform and strengthening of the WHO and of the global health system.
“The world needs political commitment at the highest level to transform the existing system,” he said.
“The WHO must be at the heart of global pandemic preparedness. It needs sustainable and predictable resources, and it must be fully empowered to do the job demanded of it.”
Guterres urged member states to decide a way forward to “take the bold decisions necessary to end this pandemic. Covid-19 must be a turning point.”
India exceeds COVID-19 300,000 deaths
On Monday, the COVID-19 deaths passed the 300,000 marks as the country struggled to cope with the surge in new cases.
It became the third country — after the United States and Brazil — to cross 300,000 deaths.
Overwhelmed by daily rises in infections and fatalities, the country continues to witness the spreading of the virus in rural areas and southern states.
About 4,454 deaths were recorded in 24 hours taking the toll to 303,720. It has added the last 50,000 deaths in under two weeks, according to government figures. Experts said the real numbers of deaths and infections, now 26.7 million, were probably much higher than the official figures.
The brutal wave has been accompanied by the emergence among coronavirus patients of thousands of cases of the usually rare infection mucormycosis, or “black fungus”.