The long-held maxim that might makes right, unfortunately, appears to be playing out on the global stage as a world beset by COVID fatigue races to stop this seemingly unstoppable virus.
The might is that of developed countries stomping their size and wealth to lock in access to coveted COVID-19 vaccines to the detriment of smaller countries like Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours.
Hot on the heels of calls last Friday from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) for a global summit to ensure our hardworking frontline workers and vulnerable groups could benefit from doses of the critical vaccine, came yesterday’s dire warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, that the world is on the “brink of a catastrophic moral failure” if rich countries continue to stockpile COVID-19 vaccines with no regard for poor countries.
In a speech in Geneva, he denounced the “me-first” approach of the wealthier nations and chided vaccine manufacturers for seeking approval from rich nations rather than approaching the WHO for a nod to its global use.
According to Tedros, 39 million doses of vaccine had been administered so far in at least 49 higher-income countries, while just 25 doses have been given in one of the lowest-income country.
“Not 25 million; not 25,000; just 25,” he said.
He added that even the countries that argued for equitable access are now prioritising their own deals with manufacturers, influencing the prices and trying to jump the queue.
He disclosed that 44 such deals were struck in 2020 and at least 12 have already been signed since the New Year.
The WHO chief said: “Not only does this me-first approach leave the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, but it’s also self-defeating. Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, our pain, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering.”
These developments must be concerning for us and therefore we ought to fully support CARICOM’s call.
We are aware that Prime Minister Mia Mottley along with seven other key officials received Barbados’ first doses of the vaccine recently and we welcome that small win, but even more importantly we look forward to when our nurses, doctors, other frontline workers, the elderly and other vulnerable groups can safeguard themselves from the deadly virus.
Barbados like the rest of CARICOM has signed on to the WHO’s COVAX system and made substantial down payments to secure the vaccine to inoculate at least 20 per cent of the population from the coronavirus.
A positive move, if only wealthy countries would agree to put their money where their mouth is and not only provide financial support for COVID but ensure there is enough vaccine for all of us.
Ensuring equitable access to tests, treatment and vaccines is simply the moral thing to do.
It makes little sense to protect your borders while the virus is left to spread in other countries. This approach can only lead to fresh outbreaks.
Further, the global economy and especially travel will remain depressed if less rich and powerful countries are left to battle the virus using their scarce resources.
No one should be denied life-saving vaccines because of where they live or the might of their dollar.
Might has propelled the engines of science and technology to deliver a vaccine for a viral plague at a speed never before seen in medical history. That economic might does not confer a moral superiority that would suggest that millions of lives in a few countries are more valuable than those of billions elsewhere. Such has been the lesson learned from the entire history of postwar multilateralism. Or so we thought.
Might does not make right.