Humanitarian Affairs ,Special report 2021 on COVID-19

Executive Manager Burundi Empowerment ,JP

Fight against COVID-19. Does NZ adhere to the WHO recommendations?

Since March 2020, when COVID-19 was declared as a global pandemic, the World Health Organization has worked tirelessly to stop rapid transmission of the virus in order to save lives. The negative impact of COVID-19 has been devastating. The pandemic has led to a significant loss of human life, and it has left world economies in a health crisis as governments operate in a context of radical uncertainty and struggle to tackle the spread of the virus.

The WHO role has been so crucial as it constantly urges Members States to adhere to the “public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) and International Health Regulations (IHR,2005) frameworks, which require countries to provide regular reports within 24 hours following COVID-19 detection. It is worth mentioning that The International Health Regulations framework is an instrument of international law that is legally-binding on 196 countries. New Zealand has been complying to the WHO recommendations as it continues providing reports about COVID-19 on a daily basis.

The WHO set up a Solidarity Response Fund platform in order to strengthen its ability to assist nations to prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19 pandemic.  The platform has already assisted 100 countries through COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access namely COVAX, an initiative that aims to ensure the access, equitable and fair vaccine for all nations.                               

COVAX is a global collaboration and co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Global Alliance for Vaccines Immunization (GAVI) and the World Health Organization (WHO) alongside key delivery partner UNICEF formerly the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. It is reported (MBIE) that New Zealand government has invested $27 million in COVID-19 vaccine development through the COVAX Facility with conditions, that the government will have the option to purchase COVID-19 vaccines, for up to 50 percent of the population of New Zealand and the Realm (Tokelau, Cook Islands and Niue).

COVAX was also initiated to strengthen the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), a framework which was endorsed by the 194 Member States of the World Health Assembly in May 2012 in order to prevent millions of deaths by 2020 through equitable access to vaccines for everyone.

As a signatory of the Global Vaccine Action Plan, New Zealand has started a vaccination campaign in line with the WHO recommendations “equitable and fair roll out”, starting with the front-line health workers and vulnerable population. Likewise, New Zealand recognizes that vaccination is one of the best tools to protect people from COVID-19, and it has been regarded as one of successful nations in the fight against the Pandemic, for its aggressive COVID-19 strategy that aims at eliminating the virus.

Despite the achievement, the WHO is concerned about the persistence of vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy by developed countries. For instance, February 2021 the UN reported that ten countries account for 75% of all COVID-19 vaccination, whilst more than 130 countries have not administered a single dose. As of today, COVAX has so far shipped over 38 million COVID-19 vaccines to 104 participants but that still few given that emerging patterns show that Covid-19 is worsening existing inequalities, particularly countries where there are social and economic disparities.

Amid a global health crisis, WHO has been also fighting conspiracy theories and myths about the COVID-19 Vaccine. Understandably, there is a huge amount of COVID-19 information on a daily basis, raising questions about the effectiveness of various vaccines particularly Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, Sinovac vaccine, Sputnik V vaccine and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

The negative social impact of conspiracy theories has left many people in limbo, and they undermined the WHO efforts to fight the pandemic.  Again, the role of the WHO has been so crucial as it reminds us that the consequence for getting the virus is far worse than being vaccinated. According to WHO, getting vaccinated is not only an act of protecting oneself against COVID-19, but it also prevents the spread of virus to people around.

Global Health Equity campaign 2021

Recently, the concept of “no one is safe until everyone is safe” has become a slogan for global health figures.  This slogan was widely initiated following rising levels of vaccine nationalism, which negatively impacts Sustainable Development Goal 3 “good health and well-being to all”. “Vaccine nationalism and vaccine diplomacy threaten progress on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and risks exacerbating extreme poverty by making it harder for low-income countries to access vaccines and fight the virus.”

In contrast, the WHO continues advocating for COVID-19 tests, treatments and a fairer healthier world for everyone. The WHO believes that SDG 3 can be achieved through universal health coverage, and it maintains that COVID-19 is a global pandemic requiring a global response. Furthermore, the WHO reiterates that collaboration between nations is paramount and should be just the starting point.   Indeed, global health equity must be the right way forward as it is everyone’s interest-because COVID-19 does not respect borders.

In New Zealand context, health equity is crucial as ethnic identity is an important dimension of health inequalities. Maori health status is demonstrably poorer than other New Zealanders, whilst Pacific peoples are poorer health than Pakeha. Addressing these socioeconomic, ethnic, gender and geographic inequalities requires a population health approach that takes account of all the influences on health and how they can be tackled to improve health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to play an essential role in the global governance of health and the fight of COVID-19 pandemic. I echo Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director, Health Emergencies Program (WHO) “It’s not just COVID-19 that is killing people, it is lack of access for underprivileged and years of living with health conditions that haven’t been properly managed because of one’s color, skin, ethnicity or social group, and therefore we have an opportunity to to recommit to fair vaccine distribution and global health equity”. Let’s join the World Health Organization for equitable global health campaign.

Jean-Paul Bizoza

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