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Covid-19: The opportunity for a reset of our global hum...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

Covid-19: The opportunity for a reset of our global humanity

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Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, a former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

All 195 countries on the planet are in the same big salad bowl. Covid knows no borders, carries no passport. We can say that there is a vaccine, but not that ‘we all’ have a vaccine. People with money and power have a vaccine. A mere 16% of the global population holds 60% of all available vaccines.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the emergence of global vaccine apartheid clearly illustrate what is going wrong with the world today. Medical discoveries and most recently the Covid vaccine have always been the result of a remarkable collaboration between knowledge workers, including scientists and researchers, and public funding of their work. The Covid-19 pandemic generated public funding in excess of $12-billion into finding a vaccine. Now Big Pharma wants, in its usual practice, absent of ethics, and with its long history of putting profit before people, to privatise the benefits, having benefited from the socialisation of the costs.

Speaking to investors in mid-March, Frank D’Amelio, Pfizer’s CFO, said the company was selling its vaccines at “pandemic pricing”, indicating that could change once most of the world had received its first dose.

“So the one price that we published is the price with the US of $19.50 per dose. Obviously, that’s not a normal price like we typically get for a vaccine, $150, $175 per dose.” 

A high-ranking Pfizer official touted “significant opportunity” for the pharmaceutical giant to increase the price of its Covid-19 vaccine once the spread of the virus shifts from pandemic to epidemic.

That would represent a 900% increase per dose and an annual recurring revenue stream for the duration of the patent and future pandemics which appear to be a certainty. The 18 Big Pharma companies in the period 2009-2018 had combined profits of $588-billion. We are living in an era where narrow corporate interests of maximising the accumulation of profits trumps saving the lives of people – a stark reminder of colonial exclusion and discrimination. Intellectual property rights are now the rising spectre of apartheid racism – the blunt instrument of the 1%.

A year after the outbreak of Covid-19, less than 3% of the people in developing countries are going to be vaccinated by the middle of 2021. Globally, 70,000 health workers have died since March 2020. At the current pace and scale of the vaccine roll-out, it is conservatively estimated that it would take at least seven years to vaccinate the whole population.

Africa has recorded 4.28 million cases, representing a 9% rise in just one month. As of 15 March, only 23.6 million vaccine doses had been distributed in Africa, sufficient for around 1.7% of the continent’s population. This is barely 0.5% of current global vaccine distribution, while the continent represents more than 17% of the global population. If vaccine supply to Africa is not immediately upscaled, the continent’s frontline health workers are likely to be overwhelmed. Meaning the collapse of our public healthcare system.

Africa and the developing world in general are not asking for charity. Rather, we are demanding justice. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, described the goal of providing vaccines to all as “the biggest moral test before the global community”, underlining that everyone, everywhere must be included.  

“Yet,” he said, “progress on vaccinations has been wildly uneven and unfair. Just 10 countries have administered 75% of all Covid-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose. Those affected by conflict and insecurity are at particular risk of being left behind.”

A proposal led by India and South Africa – joined by 100 countries – to request a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights to the World Trade Organisation over the creation of Covid-19 vaccines which would allow unfettered access to the intellectual property and formulas necessary to ramp up production of vaccines for the developing world, is being opposed by 10 of the wealthiest industrialised countries and the Big Pharma enterprises protected by them.

Western governments are meanwhile talking of donating their excess vaccines to the developing world through the Covax facility. And many want to be paid for it. Philanthropy cannot buy justice. As in the case of HIV/Aids activists who fought against big pharma and won, global solidarity matters. The demand for global justice and a “People’s Vaccine” is growing across the world. More than two-thirds of the people in the world supported a call for unfettered and equitable access to a People’s Vaccine by ending intellectual property rights that deny such access. 

Clearly, the main bottleneck in tackling Covid-19 today is vaccine manufacturing capacities and capabilities. While up to 14 billion Covid-19 vaccines might be needed globally, the current global manufacturing capacity is only three to five billion. In response to the current crisis and looking ahead to future pandemics, Africa must strengthen and upscale its own vaccine manufacturing capacities and capabilities. We are on our own.

We cannot let an archaic, colonial mentality that permeates the market be used to dictate the lives of people and another repeat of the HIV/Aids debacle. The market is not God and the owners of Big Pharma are not the new medieval aristocracy with the warped self-belief that they have the right to deny life to people of the world. In a world where no one is safe unless everyone is safe we have to rethink the governance and rules of our world. Let’s start with intellectual property rights.

With a population of more than 1.3 billion, Africa is one of the most unprotected and vulnerable regions. It would be a fatal mistake to consider that the pandemic here is less severe, and thus “Africa can wait”. 

We are in the eye of a perfect storm, picking up speed heading towards the wall of an economic, political, social, and ecological catastrophe. The health crisis coincides with that of legitimacy of governance and the very basis of our societal organisation. It is abundantly clear that the current status quo is broken. Humanity stands at a crossroads. One path leads to despair, growing inequality, conflict and implosion. Another is the choice to rethink, reimagine and reorganise everything. Now is the time for a just transition to a fairer sharing of the world.

We live in a world that is more connected, binding people and planet into one global system with one destiny. The digital revolution heralded a new phase of civilisation. One that was to embrace the indivisibility of our humanity and our stewardship of our planet. To build the pathways of hope and opportunity for our future generations. And to weave a notion of human values that saw us evolve to a greater consciousness of a more compassionate and caring human race living in peace and intelligent cooperation with each other and everything and everyone we share our world with. 

We must return to common decency and fairness. DM 

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c), it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are, therefore, disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information we should know about, please email [email protected]co.za
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"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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