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AFP
June 2, 2021

Global organisations issue call for vaccine equality

AFP
June 2, 2021

Washington: World leaders must make a "new commitment" to a more equal distribution of coronavirus vaccines to bring the pandemic under control, the heads of four major global organisations said on Tuesday.

Their joint rallying cry comes as concerns rise that vaccine inequality between wealthy and poor nations is further complicating and prolonging a pandemic that has killed more than 3.5 million people globally.

Writing in the Washington Post on Tuesday, the heads of the World Health Organisation, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organisation blamed the gap in vaccination programs for the emergence of virus variants that have fueled fresh outbreaks in the developing world.

"It has become abundantly clear that there will be no broad-based recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic without an end to the health crisis. Access to vaccination is key to both," they said. "Ending the pandemic is possible -- and requires global action now."

The joint op-ed was penned by IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Bank president David Malpas, and WTO director general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

They called on the Group of Seven wealthy democracies to agree on a "stepped-up coordinated strategy, backed by new financing, to vaccinate the world" at their next meeting in the United Kingdom later this month.

The officials recommended the G7 agrees to fund a $50 billion plan already put forward by the IMF to accelerate the end of the pandemic.

The WHO had already decried vaccine inequality as "grotesque" in March and its chief Tedros last month asked vaccine-wealthy nations to refrain from giving shots to children and adolescents and instead donate those doses to other nations.

UN-backed program Covax is meant to share vaccines with the poorest nations. But wealthy countries effectively elbowed out Covax in the early stages of procurement, striking their own deals with drug manufacturers and taking the overwhelming share of the more than 1.8 billion doses of vaccine that have already been injected worldwide.

The G7 member countries, which met in central London under tight coronavirus restrictions last month, committed to financially support Covax. But there was no immediate announcement on fresh funding to improve access to vaccines, despite repeated calls for the group to do more to help poorer countries.

Meanwhile, Britain on Tuesday reported zero daily death from Covid-19 for the first time since last July, despite a recent rise in cases linked to the Delta variant. According to the latest government figures, 127,782 people in the UK have died within 28 days of a positive test since the start of the pandemic -- the worst death toll in any European country.

The UK has had 4.49 million cases in total. Tuesday’s zero daily deaths came after the government reported just one Covid death across the UK on Monday, a public holiday.

Official death figures are typically lower at weekends and holidays because of a lag in reporting. The last time that no Covid deaths were recorded throughout the United Kingdom was July 30.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock welcomed Tuesday’s milestone as "undoubtedly good news", saying Britain’s vaccine rollout, which began in December, was "clearly working". However, he also sounded a note of caution with coronavirus cases on the rise.

"We know we haven’t beaten this virus just yet," Hancock added, urging people to follow public health guidance. In recent months Britain has moved forward with its plan to unlock its economy.

The government imposed a tough lockdown in January during a second wave of cases and deaths that followed the emergence of a more transmissible variant. The UK was one of the first nations in the world to begin a mass innoculation campaign.

Since the rollout, it has administered two doses of vaccine to more than 25 million people -- almost half the adult population. In a latest development, thousands of doctors across India wore black armbands on Tuesday calling for the arrest of a hugely popular guru who has claimed yoga can prevent Covid-19 and that conventional medicine has killed thousands of coronavirus patients.

Baba Ramdev, the creator of a successful traditional medicine empire, said last month the pandemic showed modern pharmaceuticals to be "stupid and failed science" and claimed hundreds of thousands "have died because they had allopathy (conventional) medicines".

On Tuesday’s "Black Day" of protests, photos on social media showed doctors with banners demanding the arrest of "Quack Ramdev" while others wore PPE suits with #ArrestRamdev written on the back.

The doctors’ association at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), one of Delhi’s biggest government hospitals, called Ramdev’s comments "disgraceful". Ramdev, a keen supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, retracted his comments after an appeal by India’s health minister and the guru said he had been merely reading out other people’s WhatsApp messages.

But he then caused further outcry by saying that he did not need a coronavirus vaccine because he was protected by yoga and traditional medicine, or Ayurveda. Ramdev’s company Patanjali Ayurved is worth several hundred million dollars, selling everything from toothpaste to jeans at its ubiquitous stores.