Tuesday, January 18

‘A global problem’: immigrant families hit by Covid jab gap | Global development

FOr months she had been dreaming about it and finally Susheela Moonsamy was able to do it: reunite with her relatives and give them a big hug. During the pandemic, he had only seen his brothers, nieces and nephews completely “masked” in socially estranged gatherings. But a few weeks ago, as their home state of California went ahead with its efficient vaccine rollout, they were able to have a proper meeting.

“It was such an emotional experience, we all hugged; and with tears in our eyes, we thanked God for being with us and giving us the opportunity to see each other up close and touch each other ”, he says. Never before have we valued so much a hug from our family members. “

A couple of weeks later, the high school counselor left her home in Oakland for a family trip to Disneyland outside Los Angeles. She felt “strange … but wonderful” after a year of cuddling with her elderly parents. But while they were away, she and her relatives received news that brought great pain: One of Moonsamy’s cousins, the daughter of her father’s sister, had died of Covid-19.

Susheela Moonsamy in California, where she has lived for 35 years.
Susheela Moonsamy in California, where she has lived for 35 years. “You think about the ones who are gone,” he says. Photograph: Robert Gumpert / The Guardian

This was not a family member in California, where Moonsamy has lived for 35 years, but in South Africa, the country where he was born and his parents left during apartheid. There, Covid runs rampant in a virulent third wave. Less than 6% of the population have received one dose of the vaccine and less than 1% have received two.

The virus has now claimed the lives of 13 of Moonsamy’s family and friends, and she feels that each day can bring more bad news. Amid rumors that the pandemic is coming to an end in California, where more than half the population is fully vaccinated, he has mixed feelings.

“It’s definitely exciting,” she says. “But at the same time you think about those who have left, and you feel that if they could only get to this point, celebrate with us. That would be great. We need to remember them … and look forward. To celebrate freedom but at the same time take into account those who have left ”.

Moonsamy is far from the only person who feels conflicted by easing restrictions. Across Europe and North America in the coming months, mass vaccination programs are expected to regain some form of normalcy. In England, restrictions will be eased on July 19, dubbed “Freedom Day” by the tabloid press. In the United States, most states have already lifted the restrictions. Across the EU, to varying degrees, countries are preparing to reopen during the summer.

But in much of the rest of the world, from Kampala to Cape Town, from the Philippines to Peru, the pandemic is not only continuing, it is getting worse. In low-income countries, only 1% of the population on average has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Caught in the middle of this growing divide are millions of people with relatives in the developed and developing world, who find themselves stunned by the staggering global inequality in their daily family gatherings, WhatsApp groups and Skype chats.

These huge differences have long been a facet of the diaspora experience, but the pandemic has magnified them. For many, two-speed vaccination programs have come to represent everything that one part of the family has and the other does not.

“[I feel] a lot of guilt… and a lot of sadness, ”says Isabella (not her real name), a law student born in Colombia but living in Canada since she was four years old.

“You know why the world is the way it is? Why do you have to leave your home country to be safe, to be healthy? Why couldn’t we just stay home and have the same experience that Canada has? “

Families of victims of Covid-19 scatter the ashes of their relatives in holes where they will plant trees in tribute to their loved ones
The families of Covid victims scatter their ashes in holes where they will plant trees as a tribute to their loved ones in a nature reserve near Bogotá. Colombia has officially registered more than 100,000 deaths from Covid-19. Photography: Raúl Arboleda / AFP / Getty

Like much of South America, Colombia is in the grip of a third wave of Covid-19, which has claimed some 45,000 lives since mid-March, more than 40% of all deaths. Approximately 24% of the population has received their first dose of the vaccine; in Canada, the figure is 69%.

Isabella, 23, is fully vaccinated. Receiving her first dose last month was an emotional experience. “I felt happy but I also remember wanting to burst into tears when I was sitting in the car seat, because when I looked around it it was incredible to see how well organized the vaccination program was, but I also knew that this is not the case. the case of Colombia and it would be at least one more year before my cousin my age in Colombia sat in the same chair, ”he says. “And who knows what could happen between now and then?”

Farouk Triki, 30, is a Tunisian software engineer living in Paris. He left his parents and siblings to move to France with his wife four years ago. He’s been vaccinated, but none of his family members at home have – deployment in Tunisia has seemed torturously slow for those who live there, with only 5% receiving both doses.

Last month, when cases reached a record high, the first cases of the Delta variant were confirmed among the population, which has had the highest per capita Covid-19 deaths in Africa.

Covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit of the Ibn Jarrah hospital in Kairouan, Tunisia.
Covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit of the Ibn Jarrah hospital in Kairouan, Tunisia, which has been badly affected by the pandemic. Photograph: Anadolu / Getty Agency

“[I’m] worried and scared, “says Triki,” because I have heard that it is even worse than the British [variant]”, Which his family captured in March. His parents, Farouk and Hanen, both teachers in Sfax, on the Mediterranean coast, were unharmed from the disease and neither of them required hospital treatment. But Hanen remembers the moment sadly. “Many relatives and friends died from Covid 19,” she says.

For Isabella, who could only see from afar how Covid first broke through her mother’s side of her family and then last month her father’s, the predominant feeling is helplessness. “I think [that] it is the most important thing, the feeling of not being able to do anything ”, he says. “We try to help our family financially, sending them money if they need it, but other than that … that’s really all we can do from here.”

Others in a similar situation have tried to mobilize the community to send money to help their countries of origin. Raj Ojha, a Nepalese mortgage broker living in Slough, southern England, has raised £ 2,000 through his organization, the Nepalese British Community UK group. The money will go to two grassroots charities that will help those worst affected in the tiny Himalayan nation.

“We are here in the UK and we cannot physically return to Nepal. All we can do is extend our helping hand to the organizations that work tirelessly in Nepal, ”he says.

Ojha, who is 40, is fully vaccinated, while when he spoke to his older sister, who is 62, last month, she told him that she had been denied her first dose.

“That is the difference. She told me they pushed her away from the crowd, they told her ‘you’re not 65 yet, you still can’t get vaccinated’. And he also has diabetes and other diseases, “he says. Ojha has relatives in Kathmandu and eastern Nepal, and none of them have been fully vaccinated; less than 3% of the country’s population has had both strokes.

Earlier this year, the director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that the world would be “on the brink of catastrophic moral failure” if it did not receive more vaccines for the developing world. But those efforts have stalled. The Covax scheme, designed to deliver cheap doses and promote vaccine equality, was already facing accusations of targeting too low when its main supplier, the Serum Institute of India, announced that it was diverting its exports of vaccines for home use. So far it has distributed only 95m of the nearly 2 billion vaccines promised this year. Supplies are not the only problem: In many low- and middle-income countries, the logistics of a mass vaccination rollout puts great pressure on fragile health systems.

A man carries his father on his back past a queue of people in Kathmandu, Nepal
A man drives his father away from the immunization center in Kathmandu, Nepal, after receiving a second dose of the vaccine. Only a small fraction of the population is fully inoculated. Photography: Rojan Shrestha / NurPhoto / Rex / Shutterstock

Moonsamy, Ojha and Isabella agree that there is an ethical imperative for richer countries to help those with fewer resources. However, it wouldn’t just be altruism, it just makes sense.

“Now that developed countries are moving towards vaccinating their populations, enormous, enormous efforts must be made to bring vaccines to developing countries, if not for the goodness of doing it for others, at least to protect the rest of the world. the population. world of more variants ”, says Isabella.

Moonsamy agrees. “This is a global problem that affects us all. By helping others, we actually help ourselves, ”he says. This past weekend, Moonsamy held a meeting on July 4 for some of his Californian relatives. They laughed, ate, and talked. They also prayed for his family in South Africa. “Our hearts ache for them,” he says.

“As much as we enjoy our incredible freedom from being locked up for the past year… we are not really free until we are all free. So we continue to do our part helping others so that one day we can celebrate our freedom together. “


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