Sunday, October 24

Limited Access to COVID Vaccines for Europe’s Poor: The Case of Moldova

Inside the largest hospital in Moldova, the medical staff is exhausted. Months of work on the front lines of COVID-19 have taken their toll. Dr. Ala Rusnac is one of those tired people. He works in the Intensive Care Unit of the Republican Central Hospital in Chisinau, but also has first-hand experience as a patient.

She developed severe pneumonia after contracting COVID-19 and was out of work for a month. She was finally vaccinated on March 2, the first day of vaccination in the country began. Dr. Rusnac is one of the lucky few who has received the vaccine in Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, and she knows how important they are.

She tells us how aware she is “that the vaccine is the only way to get rid of the problems related to COVID-19, to decrease the mortality rate, to decrease the number of patients with severe and very severe forms of COVID-19. , and in general to keep people alive. ”

She firmly believes that “vaccines are the only way out.”

Dosage shortage

So far, Moldova has only received 36,000 doses, barely enough for 1% of its population of 2.6 million. This population is not enough to cover the main objective of the country: its 60,000 doctors. Alexei Ceban, coordinator of the National Vaccine Program, tells us that a three-stage implementation is ready. However, the dosages are not. He explains that to maintain its goal of immunizing 70% of its population, “we need to have more negotiations with manufacturers. But we are a small country, with a small population; we are not as interesting for manufacturers as other countries.” .

The consequences of missing doses are dire, especially for the most fragile. We accompany an NGO called Diaconia, which distributes lunch boxes to the elderly and isolated populations in a poor neighborhood in Chisinau. The week we were there, the death rate had almost doubled compared to the previous week. However, despite this, there are still no signs of more vaccinations.

Father Andrian Agapi works with Diaconia. People trust him and the priests in that area. They share their doubts and concerns with them. He tells us that “as the vaccination campaign has not arrived here yet, nobody talks about it.” For the people there, “vaccines are not part of their daily discussions” or of their daily life.

A president fighting corruption

Moldova has a Newly elected pro-EU president, Maia Sandu. We went to visit her at the Presidential Palace. It has secured a donation of 200,000 doses from Romania. You also have free access to 20% of Moldova’s total vaccine needs of the COVAX program co-sponsored by the World Health Organization.

The authorities continue to negotiate the purchase of doses at preferential rates through this program of the WHO and the manufacturers. However, financial problems, bureaucracy, mistrust and alleged corruption are hampering these attempts.

Sandu tells us that “we see states that are in a better position, with stronger institutions, facing challenges. You can imagine how difficult it is for a state with weak institutions like Moldova.” The fight against corruption in his country is high on his agenda and he hopes that the reforms will improve the vaccine situation. “We need to get rid of the corrupt people who are trying to make money today even with the current situation,” he adds.

Working abroad

If no solutions are found, the country runs the risk of becoming increasingly isolated. About a third of the population of Moldova works abroad, often on temporary contracts in countries such as Germany and Romania. An ineffective vaccination campaign could mean they may no longer find this job.

Ala Tocarciuc is an independent expert on health policy. She herself has worked abroad in countries such as Ukraine, Russia, Switzerland and Ireland. She tells us that “it is already clear that entering and leaving Moldova depends on vaccination. There are already many questions about a Green Vaccination Passport and how this will influence mobility, since everything is interconnected.” She firmly believes that the success of the global vaccination campaign will determine the success of the Moldova vaccination campaign and vice versa.

At the capital’s central bus station, we see first-hand the effect that reduced mobility is having on Moldova. The main travel agency used to have 10 buses bound for Bucharest every day. The passengers were mostly temporary workers. Now there are only two scheduled services per day.

Eugeniu Galupa, the agency manager, tells us that if he sells 10 tickets a day he is lucky.

The need for hope

But people cannot return to normal and move freely until a vaccine solution is found. More than 4,000 people have already died from the coronavirus in Moldova. It is a number that Anatolie Stefanet, leader of a popular jazz band, you know very well. He lost his wife, mother, and several friends to the virus. The vaccines came too late for your loved ones, but you are hopeful that they can play a better role in the future.

It tells us that “human beings need to have hope in something.” He knows that his personal tragedy has pushed him to feel this way, but he is convinced that vaccines can bring that hope. As he says, “vaccines will help us stay alive.”

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