On 11th March 2020, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 public health emergency of international concern could be considered a pandemic.
A year after, there have been over 100m confirmed cases of infection with more than a quarter of a million people dead. The official figures for Nigeria are over 150,000 infected and just under 2,000 dead.
There is justifiable basis to conclude that these are gross underestimations. A wave of inexplicable deaths in several poor areas of the country, particularly in Kano state, are suspected to be from COVID-19 infection.
The public health system in Nigeria is in a state of crisis. Poor people have not been able to access COVID-19 treatment. And health workers have been overburdened with work as there are only few of them. They are underpaid and work under unsafe working conditions.
The key to containing the virus and stopping the pandemic is making vaccination available to everybody. But while several vaccines have been developed, they are not universally accessible.
At the beginning of February fifty advanced capitalist countries 80% of all vaccinations were in just ten rich countries.
This is scandalous! Pharmaceutical corporations producing vaccines are more interested in making profits than the health of people. Pfizer and BioNtech alone stand to make $13bn in profits from the vaccine they developed.
Most poor countries in Africa and the Global South cannot afford to buy the vaccines. The World Health Organization has plans to make some available to these countries through its COVAX facility, starting from March. But these are limited doses. For example, it will be able to provide doses that cover just 20% of the population in Africa.
Meanwhile, the richer countries have bought enough doses to vaccinate their populations several times over. Canada for example, will have doses to cover its population five times!
To stop this inequality which has been correctly described as “vaccine apartheid” we must demand that copyright to vaccines be removed and poorer countries supported to be able to vaccinate everybody, free of charge.
The need to do this is becoming ever more urgent as new variants of the virus have emerged and are spreading. These mutated versions of the virus are more transmissible and if everybody is not immediately vaccinated, those already vaccinated anywhere could still be infected by them.
Nigeria is one of the five countries where there have been such deadly COVID-19 variants. And it is likely to spread more among poor people who do not have money or living space to safeguard themselves.
Nigeria is not a poor country. The amounts of money being received as security votes by the president, governors and other senior executive public officers alone is enough to provide vaccine doses for everybody, starting from health workers and old people who are more vulnerable.
As we fight globally for steps to make sure vaccines are available to everybody, we must equally demand that the government takes all necessary steps to ensure vaccines are available to everybody free of charge. We must also keep up the struggle for adequate funding of the public health system, and provision of personal protective equipment and adequate wages for all health workers.
by Muda OGIDAN