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Rich, 'Big Brother' countries should give vaccines to needy nations - WHO

By Saada Hassan | May 24th 2021
World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a bilateral meeting with Swiss Interior and Health Minister Alain Berset on the sidelines of the opening of the 74th World Health Assembly at the WHO headquarters, in Geneva, Switzerland May 24, 2021. [Laurent Gillieron, Pool via Reuters]

The 74th World Health Assembly in Geneva raised a common voice: Rich countries with excess supply of vaccines should help needy ones achieve herd immunity before Christmas. 

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, said there were set targets of having a 10 per cent vaccination in poor countries by September and 30 per cent by December through rich countries distributing excess doses.

He, however, lamented how the “ongoing scandalous vaccine distribution is not acceptable” considering that 75 per cent of vaccines have been released to the rich nations which make up about 10 countries. There is no diplomatic way of saying it.”

The Director-General added these rich countries now “control the fate of the rest of the world yet the vaccines released could have been enough to cover health workers and the most vulnerable populations across the country.”

So far, barely one per cent of the population targeted under Covax facility run by WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance has been vaccinated from 72 million vaccine doses delivered to 125 countries. No country is out of the woods yet despite reduced infections in the last three weeks.

"As of today, more cases have been reported so far this year than in the whole of 2020,” said Dr Tedros. “On current trends, the number of deaths will overtake last year's total within the next three weeks. This is very tragic.”

Member states echoed his sentiments and urged the Global Health Threats Council to monitor and help prevent future pandemics. The Assembly’s outgoing president, Keva Bain, urged for the removal of trade barriers to ensure equitable distribution of resources as Covid-19 is not only a health but also a social-economic issue.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa called for waivers on intellectual property to allow for increased vaccines manufacturing across the world while bridging the gap in healthcare and enhance the role played by the World Health Organization. France initiated the World Health Organization Academy to train health workers in the next two years.

Estonian President, Kersti Kaljulaid, noted that even superpowers suffered and hence “all populations must be vaccinated, we have to think about others,” including the limited number of Afghan midwives operating in a war situation.

Among the few countries without Covid-19 is the Kingdom of Tonga which Prime Minister Dr Pohiva Tu‘i’onetoa, pegged on heeding early containment measures for which “we have been able to keep Covid-19 at bay and collaboration has been our key tool.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “the world must act in solidarity and fund Covax to be able to deploy life-saving vaccines and tools to other vulnerable countries,” despite the billions of dollars the pandemic has wiped from the global economy.

Dechen Wangmo, the Minister of Health of Bhutan, is now the president of the 74th World Health Assembly and will be assisted by five vice presidents elected from Benin, Estonia, Guatemala, Mongolia and Qatar.


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