By Esther Kamede –Center for Health, Human Rights and Development
World health day | 7 April 2021
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe”.
The Pandemic Century!
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic. Just weeks later, we went from sharing memes and jokes about the virus to actually experiencing a life-altering year that globally turned our lives upside down. On 1st April, announcements came in of a 14day nationwide lockdown. We now went to staying and working from home, pulling our children out of school, getting scared of dying, business loss and very steep falls in income.
More than a year later, the virus continues to plague the world with new deadly variants in sight, novel viruses should never be taken lightly; this one is highly infectious yet often causes no symptoms for some time. It also deepened vulnerabilities and inequalities including cracks in our health systems especially the unpreparedness and response in dealing with a pandemic. At this point the sign of hope are vaccines!-the key to overcoming the pandemic. Vaccines stimulate our immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting and preventing us from disease. This is what makes vaccines and immunization such powerful medicine and such an essential public good for all. Governments are responsible for managing public health crisis in line with human rights and fundamental freedoms. When it comes to vaccination, this involves ensuring that everyone, without discrimination, is offered a fair opportunity to receive a safe and effective vaccine.
Uganda receives its Vaccines!
On 5th March, 2021 Uganda received 864,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, from the global COVAX facility-that aims to ensure even low income countries have access to the vaccines. On 10th March launched its mass COVID-19 vaccination program, joining a host of countries in Africa to initiate the inoculation. Each phase is planned to cover 20 per cent of the population – approximately 4.38 million people, 20% is not enough, 60% would suffice this means low income countries may not realize equitable access to Vaccines. A number of determinants come into play for example the cost of the vaccines, buying vaccines for 90% of Uganda’s population would plunge the economy into borrowing and further debt .The Auditor General warned that by 2022, the country’s debt would be unsustainable. This cost would also deplete the 32.8%bn budget allocated to the health sector for the entire fiscal year, also the surplus doses from high income economies could be enough to inoculate 90% of the population.
The world has two economies!
We have two economies, the wealthy economies-high income and the poor economies-low income, this partially explains the inequities in vaccine distribution. The low income countries cannot afford vaccine equity. For example Aljazeera reported rich countries have bought more than half of the world coronavirus vaccines and are estimated to have received 90% of the delivered vaccines in sharp contrast, 9 out of ten people in poor nations may not get vaccinated. Africa has secured a meagre 300m doses of the vaccine for its population of 1.3bn people!
This World Health Day, the pandemic is still with us and its devastating impact. We hold the hope that as we fight to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic together, we are better prepared for future generations and learn from the incredible human ability to drive change and innovation even in a pandemic. We take home that ensuring universal and equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable vaccines and medicine is building a fairer and healthier world together.