As part of the activities commemorating the World Health Organisation (WHO) Day, the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-Africa) has thrown its weight behind calls for fair and free vaccines to all, especially to people in developing and poor countries.
In a letter written to the Director-General of the WHO, Mr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the ITUC-Africa, which is a pan-African trade union organisation representing over 17 million workers through her 110 affiliated national trade union organisations in 52 of the 54 African countries, assured him of Africa’s organised labour’s support in carrying forward the initiative.
In recent times, there have been outbursts and recriminations amongst developed economies bothering on the production, distribution and access to COVID-19 vaccines with allegations that many advanced economies were ordering and hoarding vaccine quantities above their national population need, to the detriment of economies such as the ones on the African continent.
The letter signed by the General Secretary of the ITUC-Africa, Comrade Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, appreciated the initiative of the for engineering the partnership initiative that brought about the “Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator programme.
Further, the ITUC-Africa affirmed, “the ACT-Accelerator being a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines is a testament to the relevance of genuine and broad partnership, collaboration and solidarity.
The letter stated that “These are necessary means to fight and rein in the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. The ITUC-Africa is also excited that COVAX being the vaccines pillar of the ACT-Accelerator that is aimed at accelerating the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world is on course. The ITUC-Africa informed that it will be joining millions of workers and peoples across the globe on April 7 and beyond to call for “vaccine for all” so that no one is left behind.”
Lending voice to these calls, Comrade Akhator Joel Odigie, the Deputy General Secretary of the ITUC-Africa observed that it was extremely unconscionable that the vaccine roll-out arrangements should be underpinned by a market-led process when it was the massive state and government-led financing that drove the development and production of the vaccines.
He echoed the need, necessity and urgency to ensure that everyone, including the poor and weak in all spatial locations, gets the jabs for free and in a timely fashion.
In his words, “COVID-19 will be defeated until everyone is shielded against this virus and a market-led approach to it will not accelerate vaccine access rather, it will further exacerbate the deprivation, poverty, hardship and misery of millions of Africans whose base has expanded on account of the socio-economic effects of COVID-19.”
He also aligned with the ITUC-Africa’s call for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to suspend her TRIPS rules so that developing economies with pharmaceutical production capacities to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines should be allowed to do so. Underlining the importance of setting aside WTO TRIPS rule so that encumbrances preventing developing economies to increase vaccines roll-out.
Comrade Akhator Odigie opined that “the urgency to save lives and preserve our existence and humanity must trump market appeasement and its insatiable appetite for profit.
“Similarly, it is critical that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) suspends her TRIPS rules so that developing economies with pharmaceutical production capacities to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines should be allowed to do so”. The urgency to save lives and preserve our existence and humanity must trump market appeasement and its insatiable appetite for profit.”
Comrade Odigie also harped on the need for the African continent to step up its preparedness to combat health pandemics.
He said, “preparedness should be assessed in the ways our governments respond to the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and morale-boosting provisions to frontline workers who have continued to demonstrate immense courage and sacrifice in the face of hazardous working conditions.”
Leaning on the opinions of several virologists, comrade Odigie opined with concern that “given the pattern of disease outbreaks in the last three decades, the world is most likely to witness another pandemic outbreak and the effects on Africa will be more severe if her preparedness remains mediocre.”