Untying vaccine nationalism knot tops tasks for Okonjo-Iweala

Top on the to-do list of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s worries is breaking the trend of vaccine nationalisation, after fixing the puzzle of fair global trade.

The newly appointed director-general of the World Trade Organisation plans to introduce rules that will facilitate equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, as poorer countries lag woefully behind in a vaccination race that has millions of vaccine doses at the behest of wealthy countries.

In the U.S., 53.8 million doses have been administered, at an average of 1.68 million doses per day. China has administered 40.5 million, the European Union over 21.5 million, the UK 15.5 million, India 8.2 million and Morocco 1.3 million.

“That’s a big issue for me, how do we get the solutions to the present pandemic?” she said in a televised interview.

Okonjo-Iweala explained that ramping up global efforts to combat Covid-19 was a priority she’s passionate about and ready to lead the WTO to play a stronger role in bringing solutions to the pandemic.

Read Also: https://businessday.ng/rest-of-the-world/article/breaking-okonjo-iweala-emerges-first-woman-wto-director-general/

She has up her sleeves the experience of chairing the board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, a leading global health financier, currently helping to distribute coronavirus vaccines globally.

Gavi in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) seemed to be struggling to get participating countries where manufacturing capacity is strong to honour the commitment of equitable distribution vaccine under the COVAX agreements.

Despite engagements and a well-wrought template to ensure each country get the opportunity to vaccinate 20 percent of their populations regardless of their financial strength, the majority in Africa hasn’t received vaccines.

According to Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, the pandemic has exposed the inequalities of our world. He worries that the vaccines, which ought to end the pandemic, may exacerbate that same inequality. “Vaccine nationalism might set short term political goals but it is ultimately short-sighted and self-defeating. We will not end the pandemic anywhere until we end it everywhere,” Ghebreyesus said during an interview.

Locally, health experts and observers have wondered why pledges made under the COVAX facility have yet to yield vaccine presence in countries where they should be administered.

Ifeanyi Nsofor, director of policy and advocacy, Nigeria Health Watch said the world is still at risk with the rate that vaccine distribution is happening.

“If you take Africa as a continent for instance, by the time you start distributing, you are entering 2022. So as commendable as COVAX is, it is not helping the situation right now,” he said.

All countries on the continent are expected to start accessing the AstraZeneca Oxford vaccines by the end of February. The vaccine is under review by WHO for Emergency Use Listing and the outcome is expected soon.

If the intervention of the new WTO director-general yields a turnaround in access, it will set Africa on the track of recovery and ease anticipated intercontinental trade interactions.

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