By Charles B. Chilufya, S.J
A couple of days ago, the champion of justice ,equity and humanity, Dr. Ayoade Alakija of the African Union’s Vaccine Delivery Alliance expressed the anger that so many of us are feeling in the face of this predictable moral failure by nations to do what can easily be done to eliminate the coronavirus. She was certainly speaking for many of us and several others who are concerned about life, justice, and equity.
After so many warnings that if we don’t vaccinate the entire world we would get new variants that we may not be able to handle, such a type has been detected, the Omicron variant. And the response of nations has been to isolate South Africa that has done good to detect the variant and did well to let the world know. This new variant of Covid-19 is worrying many but much more causing us anger. We are angry and thanks to Dr Alakija for releasing the anger on our behalf!
As we have been warned before by experts, the failure to vaccinate the world is coming back to haunt us. Its impacts are beyond health-related problems but also include colossal economic losses threatening jobs and upending livelihoods. According to the IMF 2021 World Economic Outlook, if we don’t achieve a 70% vaccination rate globally by mid-2022, we will lose more than $5 trillion in global economic losses over the next five years with serious social implications.
On account of the new travel restrictions due to the COVID Omicron variant, the World Trade Organization postponed a meeting where trade ministers planned to decide on vaccine access and production issues for developing countries. This meeting was scheduled for Geneva, Switzerland. An important feature of this meeting’s agenda was the waiving of the pharmaceutical company patents on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. There were other important items that were on the agenda that have to wait and may equally have serious consequences for livelihoods and the planet if not attended to in good time. An example is an agenda item on fisheries that could have seen members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) reach an agreement to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies culminating over 20 years of negotiation and discussion.
But still, going by what has been done many times in the past at the WTO when a momentous occasion comes up like the current one, we don’t need a special conference in Geneva to pass a patent waiver. As has been done before, the WTO can arrange a meeting to take action.We really need our politicians to act for humanity and respond to this worsening and now avoidable global health crisis. We need more than short-term reactions of vaccine donations. What we have asked for, almost for a year or more, the patent waiver, is what will save unnecessary loss of lives, forestall another serious economic fallout and food shortages. President Biden spoke strongly about the urgency of such a moral choice when experts informed him about the emergence of the new Covid-19 variant,Omicron. Many groups, Nobel prize laureates, former heads of state, and other concerned eminent global citizens have called for urgent action on the waiver.
Last week on Friday, Norway responded to this noble call and pledged to support an intellectual property waiver on vaccines. We call on the remaining few nations to heed the call and save lives. We are the world!