London – Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesushas said that vaccine equity is the best way to control the Covid 19 pandemic and get economies open and moving again.
Addressing the ECOSOC UN high level political forum on Tuesday, Dr Tedros said, “We are now facing a two-track pandemic, fuelled by inequity. This is a divide between the haves, and the have nots. We have the tools to bring this pandemic under control, but only if we use those tools consistently and equitably.”
“While some countries have high vaccination rates and are seeing lower numbers of hospitalisations and deaths, other countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia are now facing steep epidemics. There are several reasons for these increases, including the spread of variants of concern, more social mixing, the ineffective use of public health and social measures, and inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines,” he added.
Dr Tedros said that through COVAX, we have so far been able to deliver nearly 96 million vaccines to 135 countries, as well as other essential health products. But considering that the total vaccines delivered so far is over three billion, what is delivered through COVAX is actually peanuts. But vaccine inequities and vaccine nationalism are further deepening the divide between high and lower-income nations, he added.
If countries immediately share doses with COVAX and if manufacturers prioritise COVAX orders, we can vaccinate at least 10% of the population of every country by September, and at least 40% by the end of the year. WHO is calling for the sharing of know-how, technology and licenses, and the waiving of intellectual property rights, Dr Tedros added.
In May, the World Health Assembly adopted a landmark resolution on strengthening local production of medicines and other health technologies to improve access. Over 100 countries co-sponsored the resolution.
‘Primary Health Care is the Key’
“As the pandemic has shown, without local health security, there can be no global health security. That is why the Sustainable Development Goals – which address an array of interlinked, essential targets – are so important,” said Dr Tedros adding, “We now expect a shortfall of 710 million people to the billion more people covered by universal health coverage by 2023. Strengthening health systems, particularly through primary health care, is essential for an equitable and resilient recovery.”
Dr Tedros called upon WHO member states to urgently share doses with COVAX. “We need an additional 250 million doses by September, and one billion by the end of the year.We also need to provide financing for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator so that countries can receive the diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics – including oxygen – that they need,” he added.
“Second, countries need to share their mRNA COVID-19 vaccines technologies and know-how with the WHO technology transfer hub and the COVAX Manufacturing Task Force, so that countries with manufacturing capacity can get to work. Third, I ask countries, along with our multilateral partners, to support the proposal for a Pandemic Treaty,” said Dr Tedros.
Dr Tedros further said that at the core of all of our efforts must be universal health coverage, based on strong primary health care, which is the cornerstone of social, economic and political stability.
“The pandemic has highlighted that health is not a product of strong and prosperous nations; it is the means. Investing in equitable health systems and an equitable global health architecture is an investment in the future,” he added.