TThe last seven days have been a picture of two pandemics. Among the richest nations in the world, blockades and well-resourced vaccine campaigns, which have monopolized the world’s initial supply of doses, have reduced infections and deaths. Economies have opened slowly. The restrictions have been lifted. Life has grown closer to normal, giving the false impression of an end in sight of the global pandemic.
In fact, as the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom, pointed out, more cases have been reported in the last two weeks than in all the first six months of the pandemic, with South Asia being the most affected.
This was echoed by the UN children’s agency UNICEF on Friday. “The pandemic is far from over,” he said. “Covid-19 cases are increasing at an alarming rate in South Asia, especially in Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. All health systems could collapse and lead to a more tragic loss of life. Besides South Asia, we are also seeing alarming situations in other parts of the world ”.
As India once again broke world records for new cases (414,188) and deaths (3,915), the question of how to characterize and respond to an emerging two-speed world has occupied international leaders.
At the forefront has been the controversial question of how to increase vaccine production and delivery to ensure fairer distribution, with only 0.2% of the 700 million vaccines distributed so far going to low-income countries.
Gordon brownThe former British prime minister, speaking at a World Health Organization briefing earlier in the week, said: “This is a man-made catastrophe. By not extending vaccination more quickly to all countries, we are choosing who lives and who dies ”.
By midweek, the Brown-backed campaign to give up vaccine patents had had the backing of the Biden administration and, somewhat less forcefully, the EU.
The reality, as experts have pointed out, is that extending vaccine equity to the developing world is likely to be more complicated.
The recent catastrophic resurgence of the coronavirus in South Asia, and India and Nepal in particular, has been driven by factors more complex than simple vaccine shortages, particularly in India, whose Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer of vaccines, already is licensed. to produce the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The spread of the virus at the national level and within countries has been dictated by multiple issues, including demographics, political decisions on prevention and mitigation measures, and the relative strength or fragility of health systems. In the developing world, other factors have included the lack of distribution of available vaccines and indecision about vaccines.
All of this has been underscored by a WHO warning that African countries were vulnerable to a similar coincidence of circumstances that has led to the current crisis in South Asia.
“The delay in the delivery of doses of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India destined for Africa, the delay in the deployment of vaccines and the appearance of new variants, means that the risk of a new wave of infections remains very high in Africa” . WHO’s regional office for Africa said in a statement on Thursday. He said that new variants, such as those that emerged in India and South Africa, could unleash a “third wave” on the continent.
There are already worrying signs in Egypt, which this week imposed new strict restrictions, after the daily average of new cases doubled from about 500 in early February to just over 1,000, and epidemic outbreaks emerged in the southern province of Sohag and in Cairo.
“The tragedy in India does not have to happen here in Africa, but we must all be on the highest alert possible,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director. “While we ask for equity in vaccines, Africa must also strive and make the most of what we have. We must put all the doses that we have in the arms of the people. “
Some African countries had been exemplary in deploying vaccines, the WHO said, without naming them. But he added that despite this, only slightly less than “half of the 37 million doses received in Africa” have been administered so far.
Africa now accounts for just 1% of vaccine doses administered globally, the WHO said, up from 2% a few weeks ago, as vaccine distribution programs from other regions are progressing much faster.
The first deliveries of vaccines to 41 African countries under the Covax scheme began in March, but nine countries have so far administered only a quarter of the doses received, while 15 countries have used less than half of their allocations.
There is concern about how mistakes in anticipating the second and third waves of the virus, marked by the emergence of new and more contagious variants, could affect the most vulnerable countries in the developing world. Writing in the New York Times, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2019 for their work to alleviate poverty, said action must be taken now to anticipate where Covid-19 will strike next.
“However, what is most critical is that we must anticipate the possibility of the virus spreading through Africa, where a vaccination campaign that had only just begun is now in jeopardy due to the situation in India, which stopped exporting vaccines in which many countries depended.
“This would bring disasters in countries where oxygen supplies and hospital beds are extremely limited. The United States and Europe must prepare to act quickly when necessary. This means shipping and manufacturing vaccines as quickly as possible, and perhaps even more urgently, this means investing in global surveillance and testing, and being prepared to ship oxygen and equipment and provide financial support to those locked up. “
That message was reinforced by Anthony Fauci, the Biden administration’s top medical adviser, who, while welcoming the patent exemption initiative, said that in the meantime, the West needed to support vaccine companies in increasing production to make vaccines available to the developing world.
“I’m certainly not against anything that could make vaccine doses quickly reach the arms of people in the developing world,” Fauci told Politico. “I feel very strongly that we have a moral obligation as a wealthy nation to put our strength to our resources to help those who would otherwise die because they are in a country where they were born.
“Having been through a horrible situation, with about 600,000 people in [the US] When we die, we want to feel really comfortable that we have absolutely interrupted the chain of transmission before doing anything else.
“You can increase production by investing resources in companies that are already doing it. And you can do it in a way to say increase, but it will be for the developing world as well as for us, ”he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism