The NGO Oxfam maintains that Covid-19 is the virus of inequality, where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. In addition, the WHO warns that we risk having countries capable of controlling the epidemic and others where it will become endemic. And if governments do not begin to coordinate responses, the situation will undoubtedly have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.
We saw the selfish and predatory reaction at the start of the pandemic, when rich countries quickly secured the supply of tests and medical supplies. What is happening now with vaccines is even worse. A few days ago, the head of the WHO warned against the “vaccine nationalism” which is adopted by the richest countries of the world to obtain preferential access to vaccines against Covid-19, which implies a ” catastrophic moral failure “which threatens a fair and equitable distribution of vaccines in the world.
In numbers, this translates into the fact that of the 65 million vaccines already supplied worldwide, 80% of them have been offered in the United States, China and the richest countries in Europe. The aforementioned expert report called by the WHO argues that most of the poorest countries will not be able to immunize more than 20% of their population and that many will have to wait until 2022.
This disaster is particularly visible in Latin America where, despite the concentration of one in four cases of Covid-19 in the world, only one million vaccines have been administered. Moreover, to make matters worse, these vaccines are concentrated almost exclusively in Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Chile – that is, in the strongest economies in the region.
Bollyky and Bown, in an article in “Foreign Affairs”, argue that the cause is that we are faced with a classic “prisoner’s dilemma” in which countries act as agents with little incentive to cooperate.
This is why the tragedy, more than moral, as the head of the WHO argues, is in fact political, because it reflects the inability to provide concerted responses between nations in the face of a pandemic that has had health effects. , economic and social devastating.
The United Nations General Assembly has taken a year since the start of the pandemic to hold special meetings on the subject, without also achieving any tangible results. The WHO has shown it lacks political and financial strength, further weakened by Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from membership. The limited involvement of the G-7, the G-20 and even the G-77 in providing concerted responses is also surprising.
The closest initiative to an effective collaborative exercise is the ACT Accelerator, which brought together governments, pharmaceutical companies and large philanthropic organizations such as the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation from an early age, with the goal of to accelerate the manufacture and equitable distribution of vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tools against Covid-19. One component of this initiative is the Covax program, which aims to deliver 2 billion vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
However, this program has failed to attract some of the major vaccine producing countries. The United States just joined this week. The main pharmaceutical companies are also not participating, having obtained only 25% of the planned financial commitments. In other words, at best, the vaccines will not be distributed until the end of 2021, one year after the start of vaccination in rich countries. Many countries in Latin America and Africa may not be able to get coverage until 2023 or 2024.
The impact of this lack of collaborative governance mechanisms at the global level will have devastating consequences. The voices of the experts currently advising the WHO argue that this will create a huge divide in the world, wreaking havoc on these societies.
However, the incentives are strong enough and should alert rich countries. Lack of cooperation will necessarily affect the “winners” as well. The ILO says 255 million jobs have already been lost around the world. If deaths continue to rise, it is estimated that the pandemic could kill 40 million people and shrink the global economy by $ 12.5 trillion by the end of 2021. That means fewer consumers, fewer exports and less. fewer jobs. And if nationalism goes global, it could jeopardize the vaccine value chains themselves, the active ingredients of which are typically obtained in developing countries.
The only collective way to avoid the famous “prisoner’s dilemma” is to generate mechanisms, or strengthen existing ones, for collaborative governance. It is clear that the multilateral crisis is not new. But there is no other choice than to do the political work of building consensus and shared leadership on the international scene, in order to convince countries of this cooperation.
With the Biden administration, and the reintegration of the United States into the Paris, WHO and Covax agreements, a new window of opportunity opens. Latin America could do the same and reconstitute the South American Health Council. This Council, which is part of the dismantled Unasur, was precisely the only regional space that brought together South American ministers to promote common health policies.
Collaborative governance would allow uniform vaccination and help priority populations with critical public health objectives. In turn, this would boost economies, avoid disruptions in supply chains, maintain laboratory conditions (not the other way around) and avoid unnecessary geopolitical conflicts.
Politics, we know, is never the simplest solution. But we also know that in this crisis no one can save themselves.
Spanish translation by Maria Isabel Santos Lima
www.latinoamerica21.com, a pluralist media engaged in the dissemination of critical and true information about Latin America.