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WHO decries unequal access to vaccines, calls for global changes

by Haruna Gimba
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By Asmau Ahmad

The World Health Organisation (WHO), has warned of “highly unequal access” to vaccines against COVID-19 and other diseases in rich and poor countries, calling for global market changes.

According to the WHO for example, the vaccine against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, has only been introduced in 41 per cent of low-income countries.

WHO said in a report published on Wednesday, that this was compared to 83 per cent of high-income countries.

“Affordability can also be an obstacle, as sometimes middle-income countries actually pay more than wealthier ones due to price differences.

“The right to health includes the right to vaccines,” WHO Director General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, was quoted in the report as saying.

However, the report shows that free market policies are depriving some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people of this right.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a total of about 16 billion vaccine doses worth 141 billion dollars, were delivered in 2021, almost three times the market volume of pre-COVID 2019.

The figures showed further potential for scaling up vaccine production.

However, production was in the hands of a few manufacturers, the WHO noted.

The global health body further stated that apart from COVID-19 vaccines, just 10 companies supplied 70 Per cent of other vaccine doses in 2021.

It said that Some of the 20 most commonly used vaccines, such as those against rubella and measles, came from only two suppliers.

According to WHO, Monopolies on intellectual property and limited sharing of technology, restricts the ability to build and use local production capacities.

It also said another threat was posed by the limited investment in vaccines, which are only in demand during outbreaks, such as in the case of cholera, typhoid, monkeypox and Ebola.

These factors could be “devastating to people’s lives,” the report says.

Furthermore, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, proved that vaccines could be developed in a fraction of the time previously required, it said.

Therefore, to advance equitable access to vaccines, the WHO urged governments to develop clear vaccination plans, strengthen oversight of vaccine development, production and distribution, and explore regional research and production centres.

Meanwhile, the WHO said number of COVID-19 deaths has fallen sharply to 90 per cent drop since last winter.

Earlier, some 9,400 COVID-19-related deaths were reported worldwide, WHO chief, Tedros Ghebreyesus reported in Geneva on Wednesday.

He said that this was almost 90 per cent less than in February, when the 2022 weekly peak of 75,000 was reached.

While that was a positive development, too many people were still dying, the WHO chief said during a news conference.

“Almost 10,000 deaths a week is 10,000 too many, for a disease that can be prevented and treated. COVID-19 is still a pandemic,” said WHO epidemiologist, Maria Van Kerkhove.

In the previous week, about 2.1 million new infections were reported worldwide.

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