WHO and global faith leaders call for fair access to Covid vaccines

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Global faith leaders and senior health and humanitarian figures are calling on countries to ensure the equitable distribution of Covid vaccines, warning that the world is “at a turning point”.

The signatories of an international declaration include Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization; Henrietta Fore, executive director of Unicef, the UN’s children’s agency; Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross; Filippo Grandi, United Nations high commissioner for refugees; Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the global Anglican church; Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar; and Christian and Jewish leaders.

They said: “There is a choice. The world of the next 10 years can be one of greater justice, abundance and dignity. Or it can be one of conflict, insecurity and poverty. We are at a turning point.”

Saying that no country in the world has been untouched by the Covid pandemic, the declaration calls for equitable vaccine access both within and between countries by providing vaccines and funding, and sharing knowledge and expertise.

It said: “Those of us who have signed this declaration represent organisations with roots in communities across the world. We work closely with those affected by conflict, disaster and famine, and know the immense challenges they face – but also of their resilience even in the worst of situations.

“In 2021, the world economy is facing the worst downturn since 1945. For some countries this will sharply increase poverty and suffering. For others it means hunger and death. The fallout from the pandemic will be with us for a long time to come. There will be a continued economic impact, with all the human suffering that brings. A generation of children, especially girls, have left school and will not return.

“The world is facing the challenge of how to reverse these devastating dynamics with health being a key part of such a response.”

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The Covax programme to distribute vaccines globally, which is supported by the UK government, is “currently the best effort we have to ensure that vaccines reach people around the world. However, Covax is only intended to cover 20% of the global population – the most vulnerable in lower-income countries – by the end of 2021 and it is not yet clear if it will meet this target.”

The declaration concludes: “It is time for decisive leadership. Countries and organisations across the world have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address global inequality and reverse some of the fallout from the past year. In doing so, they will bring hope not only for the poorest in the world, but for us all.”

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