President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for equitable vaccine access as poorer countries lag behind in their COVID-19 inoculation drive.
Speaking during the 74th World Health Assembly (WHA), President Ramaphosa said this week’s assembly was taking place in one of the critical periods in recent history as countries grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At this year’s World Health Assembly, we’re urged to end this pandemic, prevent the next one and build a healthier, safer and fairer world,” he said on Monday.
To achieve this year’s agenda, President Ramaphosa has called on world leaders to urgently address the huge divide in the provision of lifesaving jabs.
“Millions of people in wealthier nations have been vaccinated, while billions of people in poorer countries still wait and are still vulnerable to infection, disease and to death.”
He believes that all leaders need to work together to remedy the situation.
“This is not only a moral imperative. Effective and comprehensive global vaccination is vital to ending the pandemic. None of us can hope to be safe unless we’re all safe all over the world.”
The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO) attended by all Member States.
Increase vaccine production
President Ramaphosa, who co-chairs the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, has also pleaded with the global leaders to continue to support the initiative to raise US$18.5 billion.
ACT Accelerator is a global collaboration accelerating the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.
“We must urgently increase vaccine production across the world, including in low-and middle-income countries.”
He also shone the spotlight on the limited waiver on intellectual property rights as a mechanism to promote rapid, equitable access.
According to the President, this will allow countries to allow the use of intellectual property, share technologies to produce vaccines and therapeutics, lower prices and expedite distribution to everyone across the globe.
“As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, we need to build more robust pandemic response systems.”
He told delegates that countries must invest in national health systems, as they are crucial to the health of people and the sustainability of economies.
“While the pandemic has exposed some of the weaknesses in our respective health systems, it has also required decisive measures to strengthen them.”
Meanwhile, the President said he believes that building healthier, safer and fairer lives is also about delivering integrated services for HIV, tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases and maternal, newborn and child services.
He paid tribute to the contribution of the millions of health workers and other frontline personnel who have demonstrated amazing courage and dedication.
He also thanked the WHO’s Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, and his staff for the “excellent” job done in managing this pandemic.
Director-General Ghebreyesus also shared President Ramaphosa’s sentiments.
He said the ongoing vaccine crisis is a “scandalous” inequity that is perpetuating the Coronavirus pandemic.
According to Ghebreyesus, over 75% of all vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries.
“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,” Ghebreyesus added.
In addition, he said the number of vaccine doses administered globally so far would have been enough to cover all healthcare workers and the elderly, had they been distributed equally.
“But right now, there is not enough supply. Countries that vaccinate children and other low-risk groups now do so at the expense of healthcare workers and high-risk groups in other countries.”
Ghebreyesus said since the assembly started on Monday, almost 1 000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19.
“And in the time it takes me to make these remarks, a further 400 will die.”
The 74th World Health Assembly, which kicked off on Monday under the theme “Ending this pandemic, preventing the next: building together a healthier, safer and fairer world,” will conclude on 1 June 2021.