Advertisement

Discrimination in COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution “shocking injustice”: Catholic Charity

Habiba Mohamed, checks the temperature of Mohamed Abdi Ali at Luuq hospital in the Gedo region of Somalia.

On the occasion of Zero Discrimination Day marked March 1, the leadership of the overseas development agency of the Catholic Bishops of Ireland, Trocaire, has decried the discrimination of poor countries in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, describing it a “shocking injustice.”

In her Monday, March 1 report obtained by ACI Africa, the CEO of Trocaire, Caoimhe de Barra calls for equality and fairness in the production and distribution of the vaccine.

“Rich countries with just 16 per cent of the world’s people have bought up 60 percent of global vaccine supply,” Ms. Barra notes, and adds, “As a result, while more than 225 million people have already received vaccines across the world, only 0.02% of those people live in sub-Saharan African countries.”

In her report titled, “Poorer countries need more vaccines. Here’s how we do it,” Ms. Barra notes that “almost half of the world’s countries haven’t been able to vaccinate a single person yet.”

In making her case, Trocaire’s CEO highlights the plight of health workers in Somalia’s “remote, dusty, hot” Gedo region, where “for over 30 years, Trócaire has been the only healthcare provider.”

Advertisement

Among the workers is Habiba Maalim who is as a nurse midwife coordinator. Habiba helps “to safely deliver babies in a country where women are over 150 times more likely to die in childbirth than in Ireland,” she says.

Ms. Barra notes that Habiba and her co-workers “badly need COVID-19 vaccines, but it is a mark of our deeply unequal world that they’re not going to be able to get them anytime soon.”

“Our team provides healthcare services to 19,000 people every month. Should just one doctor be unable to work because of COVID, it could be life threatening to thousands of expectant mothers,” she further says, adding, “We don’t anticipate receiving any COVID vaccines, not even for our doctors, nurses and midwives, until next year at best.”

The CEO of the 48-year-old Catholic charity laments inequality in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine saying that “places like Somalia are being left behind.”

She decries what she says is wealthy countries ordering “enough doses to vaccinate their populations ten times over” while “billions of people in the world’s poorest countries won’t be able to receive a vaccine this year.”

More in Africa

In the March 1 report, the Irish-born Trocaire head hails the global COVAX initiative that aims to avail the vaccines to developing countries.

“The reality of our unequal world is that these countries will be waiting in line,” Ms. Barra says.

She explains, “Wealthier countries have secured bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies, and having deep pockets means you can get your populations vaccinated first, leaving the poorest countries at the bottom of the queue.”

That some rich countries have hoarded the vaccines and will only share the excess “once they’ve covered their populations” is an approach that Ms. Barra finds “deeply unfair” as “it says to the rest of the world, ‘we’ll cover our people first and then you can have the leftovers when we’re done.’”

“It is also remarkably short-sighted. Allowing the virus to circulate in poorer countries will inevitably lead to further mutations, which may threaten the efficacy of vaccines. Getting vaccines quickly rolled out to poor countries is in everyone’s interests,” the Ireland-based CEO says.

Advertisement

The call for COVID-19 vaccine equality “isn’t just about sharing what vaccines are currently being produced; it’s about ensuring we have enough vaccines produced quickly enough for the world’s population,” the Trocaire official clarifies.

She goes on to caution, “Unless production is quickly ramped up around the world to meet global demand, there simply will not be enough supply for all the countries in need.”

As a way forward, the CEO of Trocaire calls for the waiver of intellectual property rights “so South Africa, Brazil and India can ramp up production of cheaper vaccines.”

“More than 100 countries are calling on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to provide such a waiver,” she said, adding that the European Union (EU) “stands in the way and is trying to block this waiver.”

With a key agenda of the WTO two-day General Council meeting starting on March being the discussion on the waiver of intellectual rights on COVID-19 vaccines and other related technologies, the Trocaire head says it would “be an appropriate day for Ireland to support this intellectual property waiver and to try and persuade the EU to stand on the right side of history.”

“This moment will be remembered for decades to come,” she says and continues, “Either as the moment when rich nations like Ireland sided with pharmaceutical corporations rather than with the needs of humanity, or as the moment where humanity came together to defeat this indiscriminate disease.”

Trocaire officials are the latest to address the issue of COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution.

On February 26, Jesuits in Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) joined over 100 countries across the globe to petition the G20 countries to support the waiver of the patent rights on coronavirus vaccines submitted to WTO last year.

On the same day, the leadership of Caritas Internationalis called on the international community to promote the local production of COVID-19 vaccine in poor countries, including those in Africa.

First celebrated on 1 March 2014, the Zero Discrimination Day aims to promote equality before the law and in practice throughout all of the member countries of the United Nations.