…says vaccination, testing and access to treatment still low
By Chioma Obinna & Gabriel Olawale
The world leaders who gathered at the third UN General Assembly have raised alarm that the global threat of COVID-19 was far from over, saying that many countries are far from meeting global targets on vaccination coverage, testing rates, and access to treatments and PPE.
The group – co-chaired by Indonesia and the United States warned that coordinated action, sustained political will and funding commitments are still needed, to save lives and combat the ongoing threat of COVID-19.
Ahead of several high-level events at the UNGA to take stock of progress, Indonesia’s Tri Tharyat and the United States’ Loyce Pace highlight that while progress is being made, the global threat of COVID-19 is far from over, particularly for high-risk groups in lower-income countries.
According to the most recent Global COVID Access Tracker data, a quarter of most vulnerable globally still need a primary COVID-19 vaccination series (24 per cent of elderly persons and 26 percent of health workers).
Indonesian Ambassador Tri Tharyat, Director General for Multilateral Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “Critical funding and political leadership is needed for the roll-out of tests, treatments and vaccines. Funding the ACT-Accelerator will support its work to expand access to life-saving tools, from new oral antivirals to booster vaccine doses, to ensure healthcare workers and those who are most at-risk are protected wherever they live in the world. We must quickly translate vaccines into vaccination. No-one is safe until everyone is safe.”
The Working Group notes with concern that COVID-19 vaccination rates in low-income countries stand at 19 per cent, compared to almost 75 per cent in high-income countries.
Low income and lower-middle income countries are still far from the 100 tests per 100k population per day target; low-income countries are testing at a rate of just 2/100k population, while lower-middle income countries are at 22/100k population.
Loyce Pace, Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said: “Support for vaccine readiness and uptake are making an important difference to increase COVID-19 vaccine coverage and significantly reduce the number of countries with very low COVID-19 vaccination rates. Primary series coverage in the COVAX AMC 92 countries increased from 28 per cent in January of 2022 to 51per cent in September.
“There is still progress to be made in global vaccination rates and lessons for how successful efforts might apply to testing or treatment initiatives at the country level.”
As a report on access to COVID-19 tests and treatments is published, the co-chairs of the council’s Therapeutics and Diagnostics Working Group, Mustaqeem de Gama of South Africa and Ian Dalton of the United Kingdom, highlight the decline in testing rates and the lack of equitable access to new antiviral treatments for COVID-19.
The Working Group report emphasizes that diagnostics and therapeutics, and associated test-to-treat strategies, are fundamental components of pandemic response, both for COVID-19 and future health threats. The report makes sixteen recommendations for action for medium and long-term COVID-19 control, as well as the strengthening of prevention, preparedness and response (PPR).
Mustaqeem De Gama, Director of Legal International Trade at South Africa’s Department of Trade, Industry and Competition said: “The swift, equitable roll-out of vaccines, tests, and treatments is crucial to help countries combat COVID-19. Without adequate testing and sequencing, the world is blind to the evolution of the virus and potential new variants. People in low and middle-income countries continue to die due to a lack of access to antiviral treatments and oxygen. We must push on for equitable access to COVID-19 tools, despite multiple competing priorities.”
Ian Dalton, Senior Head of Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics at the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “As the report shows, investments in diagnostics and therapeutics capacity for COVID-19 pays dividends for future pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. There are action points to be taken forward from the analysis undertaken by the working group, and I hope partners will see it as a springboard for action.”