People's Stories Equality

Programme to facilitate poor countries' access to coronavirus vaccines, remains short of funding
by People’s Vaccine Alliance, UN Aids, agencies
9 Nov. 2020
Statement by UN Human Rights Experts: Universal access to vaccines is essential for prevention and containment of COVID-19 around the world. (OHCHR)
To date, there have been more than 49 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 1.2 million deaths reported to WHO.1 This disease continues to prove more deadly than anticipated while the world carries on facing the cumulative and interconnected health, economic, social and human rights crises it has unleashed.
In October 2020, the World Bank estimated that the pandemic will push an additional of between 88 to 115 million people into extreme poverty this year, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021. The World Food Programme projected that 265 million people will face crisis levels of hunger unless direct action is taken, doubling their estimations of hungry people pre-COVID-19.
These and many other figures offer only a glimpse of the exorbitant human costs of the pandemic. At the national and international levels, COVID-19 has brought to the fore systemic inequalities, aggravated pre-existing institutional weaknesses including in health, food and procurement systems, and highlighted a lack of access to quality, accessible and affordable health care for all. Socio-economic inequality has deepened even further.
At a global level, inequalities are also increasing between countries with enough economic means to face the crises and those without. Responses to the pandemic have sometimes been used as a pretext by Governments and business enterprises to undermine or lessen international human rights commitments.
In our capacity as UN human rights experts, we emphasise that a global pandemic of this scale and human cost, with no clear end in sight, requires a concerted, principled and courageous response. All efforts to prevent, treat and contain COVID-19 must be based on the bedrock human-rights based principles of international solidarity, cooperation and assistance.
There is no room for nationalism or profitability in decision-making about access to vaccines, essential tests and treatments, and all other medical goods, services and supplies that are at the heart of the right to the highest attainable standard of health for all.
Since millions of people’s hope is that vaccines are developed safely and swiftly, that they are made universally available, that they are affordable, easily accessible, this statement aims at raising some of the critical human rights aspects that are intertwined with regard to the rights to life, to health and to international cooperation and assistance and to provide some recommendations for States.
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Sep. 2020
WHO-backed programme to facilitate poor countries' access to coronavirus vaccines, remains short of necessary funding. (AFP)
More than 60 developed nations have joined a WHO-backed programme to facilitate poor countries' access to coronavirus vaccines.
The World Health Organization has in coordination with the global vaccine alliance group Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) created a mechanism aimed at ensuring a more equitable distribution of any future Covid-19 vaccines.
But the mechanism, known as Covax, has struggled to raise the funds needed to provide for the 92 low-income countries and other economies that quickly signed up.
WHO had encouraged richer nations to step up to the plate by the end of last week and when the deadline fell, 64 were onboard with another 38 expected to join in "coming days", the three organisations said in a joint statement.
Among those who have signed up are "the European Commission on behalf of 27 EU member states plus Norway and Iceland," it said.
The United States, which under President Donald Trump has relentlessly criticised the WHO's handling of the pandemic and which is in the process of withdrawing from the organisation, is not on the list. And China, where the novel coronavirus first surfaced late last year, to date is also absent.
"The purpose of the Covax facility is to try to work with every country in the world," said Gavi chief Seth Berkley told a virtual briefing. "I can assure you that we have had conversations and will continue to have conversations with all countries," he said.
In addition to working to get more countries to join Covax, Berkley said there was also an ongoing dialogue with vaccine-producing countries about "if they have successful vaccines that come out, how we can make sure they are made available to others in the world."
The aim is for Covax to lay its hands on two billion doses of safe and effective vaccines by the end of 2021. But the mechanism is facing a range of significant challenges, not least a serious funding shortfall.
The WHO has said some $38 billion is needed for its overall ACT-Accelerator programme, which includes Covax, but also global collaboration towards developing and ensuring equitable access to tests and treatments for Covid-19, and strengthening health systems. But so far it has received just $3.0 billion of that.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the fact that so many countries -- representing nearly two-thirds of the global population -- had agreed to participate in the mechanism.
"Covid-19 is an unprecedented global crisis that demands an unprecedented global response," he said, warning countries against scrambling to acquire vaccine stocks for their populations alone.
"Vaccine nationalism will only perpetuate the disease and prolong the global recovery," he said. "This is not charity," he told journalists. "It's in every country's best interest. We sink or we swim together."
Sep. 2020
Small group of rich nations buys up more than half the future supply of leading COVID-19 vaccine contenders, reports Oxfam America a member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
Wealthy nations representing just 13 percent of the world’s population have already cornered more than half (51 percent) of the promised doses of leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates, Oxfam warned today, as the health and finance ministers of G20 countries prepare to meet virtually to discuss the global pandemic.
Oxfam analyzed the deals that pharmaceutical corporations and vaccine producers have already struck with nations around the world for the five leading vaccine candidates currently in phase 3 clinical trials, based on data collected by Airfinity.
“Access to a life-saving vaccine shouldn’t depend on where you live or how much money you have,” said Robert Silverman, Advocacy Manager in Oxfam America’s Private Sector Department. “The development and approval of a safe and effective vaccine is crucial, but equally important is making sure the vaccines are available and affordable to everyone. COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere.”
The efforts of rich countries, especially the US, to adopt a “me first” nationalistic approach prevents coordination and could prevent or delay the vaccine from reaching people who are at greatest risk, both living in developing countries and here at home, warned Oxfam.
Oxfam also warned that that corporations with leading vaccine candidates do not have the capacity to make enough vaccines for everyone who needs one. Even in the extremely unlikely event that all five vaccines succeed, nearly two thirds (61%) of the world’s population will not have a vaccine until at least 2022. It’s far more likely some of these experiments will fail, leaving the number of people without access even higher.
The calculations expose a broken system that protects the monopolies and profits of pharmaceutical corporations and favors wealthy nations, while artificially restricting production and leaving most of the world’s population waiting longer than necessary for a vaccine.
One of the leading vaccine candidates, developed by Moderna, has received $2.48 billion in committed taxpayers’ money. Despite this, the company has said it intends to make a profit from its vaccine and has sold the options for all of its supply to rich nations - at prices that range from $12-16 per dose in the US to around $35 per dose for other countries - putting protection out of reach for many people living in poverty.
While it may be making real efforts to scale up supply, according to reports, the company only has the capacity in place to produce enough for 475 million people, or 6 percent of the world’s population.
Oxfam and other organizations across the world are calling for a people’s vaccine – available to everyone, free of charge and distributed fairly based on need.
This will only be possible if pharmaceutical corporations allow vaccines to be produced as widely as possible by freely sharing their knowledge free of patents, instead of protecting their monopolies and selling to the highest bidder.
“Governments will prolong this crisis in all of its human tragedy and economic damage if they allow pharmaceutical companies to protect their monopolies and profits,” said Chema Vera, Interim Executive Director of Oxfam International.
“No single corporation will ever be able to meet the world’s need for a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s why we are calling on them to share their knowledge free of patents and to get behind a quantum leap in production to keep everyone safe. We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine.”
There are also large differences in the willingness of pharmaceutical companies to set aside supply for poorer nations. While Moderna has so far pledged doses of its vaccine exclusively to rich countries, AstraZeneca has pledged two-thirds (66 percent) of doses to developing countries. Although AstraZeneca has done a great deal to expand its production capacity by partnering with and transferring its technology to other manufacturers, it could still only supply up to 38 percent of the global population, and only half of this if its vaccine requires two doses.
“We in the AIDS movement have seen in the past how corporations use monopolies to artificially restrict supplies of life-saving medicines and inflate their prices,” Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under-Secretary General.
“UNAIDS and other members of the People’s Vaccine Alliance are calling for a new approach that puts public health first by sharing knowledge and maximizing supply. Anything short of that will lead to more deaths and economic chaos, forcing millions into destitution.”
The estimated cost of providing a vaccine for everyone on Earth is less than 1 percent of the projected cost of COVID-19 to the global economy. The economic case for requiring pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccine knowledge free of patents so that production can be scaled up as fast as possible could not be clearer, the agency said.

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Economic impacts of the coronavirus are devastating communities in the world’s poorest places
by Jan Egeland
Secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council
Sep. 2020
In March, we predicted that the 70 million people fleeing violence and persecution across the world would be hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. I underestimated the impact of the disease. Its knock-on effects are proving more devastating than the virus itself.
This week my organisation, the Norwegian Refugee Council, published a report, Downward Spiral, showing that the world’s most vulnerable communities are facing a quadruple crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic: a health crisis, a hunger crisis, a homelessness crisis and an education crisis.
Based on research across 14 countries, including a survey of 1,400 refugees and crisis-affected people, we found a staggering 77 percent had lost their jobs or income since the start of the pandemic. The economic shock to already vulnerable communities is pushing them further into destitution. For a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, or a Yemeni mother forced to flee her home because of air raids, even a small loss of income can be devastating.
Most seriously, a hunger pandemic is looming. The World Food Programme warned in June that the number of people severely hungry could soar from 146 million to 270 million by the end of the year. Our report found that 73 percent of people surveyed had had to cut meals for themselves or their families. These are people already facing food crises because of conflict, or natural phenomena like droughts or plagues of locusts.
Many people we spoke to in conflict countries say they are more afraid of the hunger crisis brought on by COVID-19 than they are of being killed by the disease itself.
The unfolding crisis of homelessness is another side-effect of the coronavirus. Seventy-one percent of respondents told us they had difficulty paying rent or other basic housing costs. Many reported having been evicted since March. These are people who have already had to flee violence and persecution, some multiple times.
We spoke to a refugee mother of six in Uganda who was evicted because she owed $555 for four months’ rent arrears. She had been unable to gather enough money to cover her rent since the pandemic hit. The money that kept her head above water – remittances from family working in Australia – came to a halt. Her situation is dire but, sadly, not unique.
Another consequence of the loss of income for displaced people is that their children are even less likely to go to school. At least a third of the world’s schoolchildren – 463 million children globally – were unable to access remote learning when COVID-19 shuttered their schools, according to UNICEF.
Three in four respondents who had children told us they were less likely to send them to school because of their current economic situation, brought on by COVID-19. The right of these children to go to school and their future prospects are being undermined. For those children who relied on school meals for their nutritional needs, hunger also looms.
We are creating a lost COVID generation.
An opportunity for political leadership
It is understandable that countries look inward and prioritise their citizens during a moment of such global uncertainty. Rich countries have raced to protect their people from the disease and expand social safety nets as well as support businesses. Unfortunately, these are not options for countries like Afghanistan or Yemen.
But COVID-19 is also a reminder that humanity’s problems do not stop at borders. Every part of the world has been affected by the virus, and the same is true for its economic impacts. Inward-looking policies will not solve global, interconnected problems.
Quick and decisive global action is required to stem the growing catastrophe that crisis-affected communities are facing. The G20 countries will convene in Saudi Arabia in November. They should take three concrete actions to improve the lives of millions being hammered by the economic impacts of the pandemic:
First, they must commit to fully fund the United Nations COVID-19 humanitarian aid appeals for both 2020 and 2021. This year’s $10bn appeal is currently only 26-percent funded. Rich G20 and OECD nations invested $11 trillion in stimulus packages to save their economies, that is 100 times what aid organisations need to help the world’s poorest.
Second, G20 leaders must agree a comprehensive debt-relief plan for conflict-affected and refugee-hosting nations. Even the World Bank has said there needs to be broader international action than its existing loans and grants and those by other financial institutions. The G20 made this happen during the 2007 financial crisis. It must do it again for today’s unprecedented human crisis.
Finally, G20 leaders must call for extending social protection for vulnerable communities. Displaced children, women and men are often discriminated against and stigmatised, excluded from services and the labour market.
The governments hosting them must include them in economic response plans and social safety nets; they must protect them from eviction. And the governments without the resources to do this must get support from those better off.
The Riyadh gathering is a unique opportunity for the world’s powers to show international solidarity towards protecting the world’s most vulnerable people against the impacts of COVID-19. It requires not only a recognition of the problem but real political leadership to address it.

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