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WHO Bemoans Vaccine Inequality In Africa

This World Health Organisation Tuesday called for an equal distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine as countries around the world scramble for the few available doses in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Most powerful and rich nations have been on a strong drive to vaccinate their citizens while developing countries continue to lag behind.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on inequalities between countries. Amid shortages of essential supplies, African countries have been pushed to the back of the queue in accessing COVID-19 test kits, personal protective equipment and now vaccines.

“Of 548 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered worldwide, only 11 million or 2%, have been in Africa, whereas the continent accounts for around 17% of the global population,” WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said in a statement to mark World Health Day.

She said countries should invest in their own health care systems to accelerate progress towards Universal Health Coverage, to protect individuals from financial hardship in accessing needed care and to improve service coverage.

“Most African countries have initiated reforms in these areas believing that these reforms will, in turn, contribute to building more resilient health systems and societies.

“Moving forward, leaders need to work together to address inequities in their own countries and abroad in the spirit of international solidarity. Specifically, on COVID-19 vaccines, we strongly encourage pharmaceutical companies to expand their manufacturing capacities to overcome current supply shortages,” she noted.

Many experts say equitable access to vaccines is essential to prevent cases and deaths and to contribute to global population immunity but the global capacity for producing vaccines is about a third of what is needed.

Global health organizations hoped to avoid vaccine hoarding by encouraging countries to purchase vaccines through COVAX, a global alliance established to share vaccine doses with poorer countries. But while nearly 190 countries have joined COVAX, about three dozen high-income countries also negotiated direct deals with vaccine manufacturers to secure doses for their own citizens.

Through these contracts, a handful of countries representing just 16 per cent of the world’s population have snapped up more than half of the available COVID-19 vaccines. While COVAX expects to purchase around 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, that’s only enough to vaccinate about 20 per cent of people in low- and middle-income countries.

“We also encourage wealthy countries to share their doses, so that the most-at-risk populations in all countries can be protected, to save lives and speed up the recovery from this global crisis.

 

“A key challenge in overcoming inequities is that there is limited data showing who is being missed and why. To address this, national health information systems need to capture age, sex and equity stratified data. This information can then be used to inform decision- and policy-making,” Dr Moeti added.

She noted that the WHO is working with countries to strengthen capacities to collect, manage and use data, and to enhance monitoring and action to address avoidable inequities.

“In the past year, we have disseminated technical guidance on gender, equity and COVID-19 and trained 30 country teams in gender and health equity integrated programming. The teams are using skills gained to support equitable health response, including dealing with gender-based violence in the context of COVID-19,” she said.

“This World Health Day I call on the Member States, partners, civil society, communities, and other stakeholders to intensify work with WHO to achieve Universal Health Coverage and to invest in addressing the social and economic determinants of health, to tackle inequities and build a fairer, healthier world,” she added.

 

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