Africa: Release Covid-19 Jabs or Face Stiff Penalties, Rich Nations Warned

The World Health Organization (WHO) wants vaccine-producing countries to distribute Covid-19 jabs to poor nations within three months or else waive their intellectual property rights.

It also wants rich nations to guarantee access for 92 low and middle-income countries to at least one billion doses by September under the Covax Gavi Advance Market Commitment and agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfer.

It further recommends the establishment of a global pandemic kitty ready to disburse up to $100 billion on short notice on top of healthcare reforms to ensure timely response to future pandemics.

An independent panel co-chaired by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark has indicted national and international systems for curtailing equitable vaccine distribution.

"Major vaccine-producing countries and manufacturers should convene, under the joint auspices of the WHO and the World Trade Organization (WTO), to agree to voluntary licensing and technology transfer. If actions on this don't occur within three months, a waiver of intellectual property rights under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights should come into force immediately," reads the report. It notes that national and global systems are not adequate to protect people from Covid-19.

Public health

"The time it took from the reporting of a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown origin in mid-late December 2019 to a public health emergency of international concern being declared was too long.

"February 2020 was also a lost month when many more countries could have taken steps to contain the spread of Sars-Cov-2 and forestall the global health, social, and economic catastrophe that continues its grip," notes the report. The experts also want a new and transparent global surveillance system established.

The system should give WHO the authority to immediately publish information about outbreaks with pandemic potential without needing to seek approval, and to dispatch experts to investigate at the shortest possible notice. The panel recommends creation of a global facility to mobilise funding to tackle future pandemics.

"It would also be ready to disburse from $50 billion to $100 billion at short notice by front-loading future commitments in the event of a pandemic declaration. The Global Health Threats Council would allocate and monitor the funding to institutions which have the capacity to support the development of preparedness and response capacities," reads the report.

Ms Johnson-Sirleaf said: "The current system failed to protect us from the Covid-19 pandemic. And if we do not act to change it now, it will not protect us from the next pandemic threat, which could happen at any time."

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response was appointed by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in response to a resolution calling for an independent, impartial and comprehensive review of experiences gained and lessons learnt from the current pandemic.

The team was asked to provide recommendations to improve capacity for global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.

After eight months of rigorously reviewing the evidence on how a disease outbreak became a pandemic, as well as global and national responses, the team has submitted the report titled "Covid-19: Make it the Last Pandemic".

The 13 panellists have a substantial mix of skills and expertise in infectious diseases, global and national health policy and financing, outbreaks and emergencies, economics, youth advocacy, and issues affecting women and girls.

They also share knowledge of international systems, including of WHO, and experience from similar international processes. The experts have called on the international community to implement bold recommendations to redistribute, fund, and increase manufacturing capacity for vaccines.

Pandemic

They noted that the system is unfit to prevent another pandemic. The report also recommends that every country should apply proven public health measures at the scale required to curb the pandemic.

"The world must also urgently prepare to prevent a future outbreak from becoming a pandemic. To this end, the panel calls for the engagement of heads of state and government to lead efforts to transform the existing system," it adds.

The experts want a Global Health Threats Council established to maintain political commitment to pandemic preparedness and response and hold actors accountable, including through peer recognition and scrutiny. Countries should also adopt a pandemic framework convention within the next six months.

The experts have expressed concern that the burden of the current pandemic is being unevenly shared.

Covid-19 has had devastating social and financial consequences. Up to 125 million people are estimated to have been pushed into extreme poverty, while 72 million primary school children are now at risk of being unable to read or understand a simple text because of school closures.

Gender-based violence is at record levels, and child marriages have increased. In addition, the world lost US$7 trillion in GDP in 2020 - more than the 2019 GDP of the entire African continent (US$6.7 trillion).

llidigu@ke.nationmedia.com

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