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COVID-19: Commonwealth Health Ministers demand equal access to vaccines



Commonwealth Health Ministers have called for “swift and equal access” to COVID-19 vaccines for everyone around the world.

This is as only 0.3 per cent of the life-saving vaccine doses have been administered in 29 poor countries, while about 84 per cent of the shots have been distributed in high and upper middle income countries.

The ministers who made the call in a joint statement on behalf of the 54 Commonwealth member-countries after a meeting, expressed deep concern over the “stark gaps in access and delivery of doses, especially in poor countries”, and called for “fair and transparent” pricing for the vaccine.

Speaking at the meeting, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC, said the “vaccination works and is the clear and only sustainable route out of the pandemic for the whole world.”

Patricia Scotland, Commonwealth Secretary-General

“The rise of new variants shows that until everyone is safe no one is safe. No plan to tackle this virus will work until everyone agrees to work together.

“We must talk with each other to move away from some stockpiling vaccines, while many low-middle income countries still do not have access to the much-needed vaccines supplies for the vulnerable populations in their countries.

“So, co-operation to develop a global immunisation plan to deliver equal access to vaccines must be a top priority,” he said.

Noting the acute gaps in research and development of new tests, vaccines and therapies in the Commonwealth, the ministers stressed enhanced collaboration with scientists, academics and business leaders.

Chairing the meeting, India’s Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, stated that accelerating coordinated action for ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, and building resilient global healthcare systems is the need of the hour.

Dr Harsh Vardan

According to Vardhan, in our closely interlinked world, we need greater transparency to quickly identify and contain emerging health threats. Sharing best practices, strategies and solutions shall ensure preparedness against all future challenges.

The health ministers welcomed the creation of a technical group to share practical solutions and policy advice, on helping countries with the pandemic response and recovery.

In his address, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the shocking global disparity in access to vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic.

Tedros Ghebreyesus

“Vaccines are reducing severe disease and death in countries that are fortunate enough to have them in sufficient quantities, and early results suggest that vaccines might also drive down transmission.

“The shocking global disparity in access to vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic.

” We seek the support of the Commonwealth in solving the global vaccine crisis by funding the ACT Accelerator, advocating for greater sharing of technology and intellectual property, and sharing doses with COVAX,” the WHO DG said.

The ministers further backed a potential treaty on the fight against pandemics and a Commonwealth mechanism to share and distribute extra medical supplies such as ventilators and medicines.

They called on Heads of Government to allocate resources for strengthening health systems, especially through primary health care towards attaining universal health coverage.

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