UNICEF appeals to G7 as numbers rise in Sri Lanka and other countries

The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has appealed to G7 leaders for vaccines, as countries like Sri Lanka continue to see a rapid rise in the number of people infected with the coronavirus.

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said that cases are exploding and health systems are struggling in countries near – like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives – and far, like Argentina and Brazil.

“The COVAX Facility – the global COVID vaccine equity scheme – will deliver its 65 millionth dose in the coming days. It should have been at least its 170 millionth. By the time G7 leaders gather in the UK next month, and as a deadly second wave of COVID-19 will likely continue to sweep across India and many of its South Asian neighbours, the shortfall will near 190 million doses,” Fore said.

Fore said that they have issued repeated warnings of the risks of letting down their guard and leaving low- and middle-income countries without equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

“We are concerned that the deadly spike in India is a precursor to what will happen if those warnings remain unheeded. While the situation in India is tragic, it is not unique. Cases are exploding and health systems are struggling in countries near – like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives – and far, like Argentina and Brazil. The cost for children and families will be incalculable,” Fore said.

Fore warned the longer the virus continues to spread unchecked, the higher the risk of more deadly or contagious variants emerging.

“The clearest pathway out of this pandemic is a global, equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. COVAX, led by the WHO, Gavi and CEPI, with UNICEF as implementing partner, represents such a pathway. But COVAX is undersupplied,” Fore said.

Fore said that among the global consequences of the situation in India, a global hub for vaccine production, is a severe reduction in vaccines available to COVAX.

“Soaring domestic demand has meant that 140 million doses intended for distribution to low- and middle-income countries through the end of May cannot be accessed by COVAX. Another 50 million doses are likely to be missed in June. This, added to vaccine nationalism, limited production capacity and lack of funding, is why the roll-out of COVID vaccines is so behind schedule,” Fore said.

Fore said that G7 leaders will be meeting next month with a potential emergency stop-gap measure readily available. New data analysis provided by Airfinity, the life sciences research facility, and commissioned by the UK National Committee for UNICEF, indicates that G7 nations and ‘Team Europe’ group of European Union Member States could donate around 153 million vaccine doses if they shared just 20 per cent of their available supply over June, July and August.

Critically, they could do so while still meeting their commitments to vaccinate their own populations.

“While some G7 members have greater supply than others, and some have further advanced domestic rollouts, an immediate collective commitment to pool excess supply and share the burden of responsibility could buttress vulnerable countries against becoming the next global hotspot,” Fore said.

Fore said that ultimately, the global vaccination race will be won when Member States make sustainable plans to fully fund and supply the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, while supporting the expansion of vaccine manufacturing capacity, including through proactive Intellectual Property licensing and technological transfer.

However, Fore said these measures are critical, but won’t change anything overnight and sharing immediately available excess doses is a minimum, essential and emergency stop-gap measure, and it is needed right now. (Colombo Gazette)

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