The global health agency fears the vaccine crisis in Africa could lead the world ‘back to square one’
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on global leaders attending the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to guarantee equitable access to Covid shots and other life-saving tools and ensure preparedness for future pandemics.
In a statement on Friday, the global health body also urged them to make efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 76th edition of the UNGA started on Tuesday at the UN headquarters in New York.
The calls came as Covid-19 has already claimed the lives of nearly 5 million people worldwide, with the pandemic keep circulating.
“Vaccines are the most critical tool to end the pandemic and save lives and livelihoods. More than 5.7 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, but 73% of all doses have been administered in just 10 countries,” the statement says.
Meanwhile, the global agency's Africa unit said a staggering inequity and severe lag in shipments of vaccines in Africa could send the whole world back to square one.
Only 17% of the continent's population will now be vaccinated by the end of this year, compared with the 40% target set by the WHO.
Due to global shortages, the Covax alliance set up to ensure equitable delivery of jabs, will ship about 150 million fewer doses of vaccine to Africa than planned.
Taking into account this shortfall, the 470 million doses of vaccine now expected in Africa will allow only 17% of the population to be fully protected, the WHO's regional office said.
High-income countries have administered 61 times more doses per inhabitant than low-income countries, the WHO mentions, adding: “The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and evolving, and the longer the social and economic disruption will continue.”
The WHO aims to vaccinate at least 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year, and 70% by the middle of next year. These targets are achievable if countries and manufacturers make a genuine commitment to vaccine equity.
The WHO is calling on countries to fulfil their dose-sharing pledges immediately and to swap their near-term vaccine deliveries with Covax and Avat (African Covid-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team).
Manufacturers are requested to prioritize supplies to Covax and partners, and for countries and manufacturers to facilitate the sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property to support regional vaccine manufacturing.
Even as countries focus on ending this pandemic, the world must also prepare for future pandemics and other health emergencies.
The pandemic hit vulnerable populations particularly hard and exacerbated inequalities.
The WHO urged all countries to break the cycle of ‘panic and neglect’ seen after previous health emergencies, and commit adequate financial resources, as well as political will, to strengthening health emergency preparedness across the globe.
Universal health coverage (UHC) is a keystone of global health security. Despite progress in UHC in recent years, 90% of countries have reported disruptions in essential health services due to the pandemic, with the consequences reverberating beyond the health sector.
Serious investment in UHC and pandemic preparedness is critical not only to bolster global health security but also to getting the 2030 SDG back on track.
The pandemic has reversed progress towards the SDGs, including gains that had been made on eradicating poverty, eliminating gender inequality, vaccinating children against communicable diseases and girls’ and boys’ education.
But it is also providing the world with new opportunities to do things differently, and to truly collaborate on building back better – towards a healthier, fairer, more inclusive and sustainable world.