The multilateral approach is enlightened self-interest

The multilateral approach is enlightened self-interest

Friday, January 22, 2021

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Realism triggered the Government's decision to set COVID-19 vaccination targets of 16 per cent of the population this year and again next year, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told Parliament a few days ago.

He was responding to criticism from Opposition Leader Mr Mark Golding that the 16 per cent figure was too low and in effect lacked ambition. The Government should be pushing for 60 per cent vaccinations level this year in order to achieve so-called herd immunity against the respiratory illness, Mr Golding said.

But, according to Dr Tufton, vaccine supplies in the desired quantities were not easily accessible.

Said the health minister: “[Y]ou can't access what is not available, and that is the real challenge we face... It is one thing to say we have to achieve 60 per cent to get to herd immunity, but if the supplies are just not there, they are just not there...”

Then, yesterday, came news that South Africa the African nation hit hardest by the novel coronavirus pandemic finds itself buying doses of a particular vaccine at a price 2.5 times higher than most European countries.

Not unexpectedly there are questions as to whether South Africa's experience is the result of price gouging.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been saying for some time that a “me first”, and “profit first” approach to distribution of the life-saving vaccines could lead to people in middle-income and poorer countries being denied access at the required levels.

Indeed, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus argued recently that the world was faced with a “catastrophic moral failure”. Far too many wealthy countries were simply looking inwards in seeking to combat COVID-19, rather than striving to meet the crisis on a global basis, he seemed to suggest. He argued that a “me first” approach would only encourage hoarding and price gouging. Ultimately, “me first” would prolong the pandemic and therefore prove self-defeating for all.

This is one reason countries like Jamaica will welcome the seeming imminent return to a multilateral approach by the new US Administration led by President Joe Biden.

We are now hearing that the US plans to join the COVAX scheme, co-led by WHO, which is aimed at ensuring vaccine delivery to poor countries.

We hear that the US will also provide funding for the WHO. This would be in keeping with the reported reversal of the Donald Trump's Administration decision for the US to leave that organisation.

Of course, it would also be in sync with other reversals of Trump policies, such as the planned return to the Paris Accord on climate change.

Recently, Mr Angel Gurria, general secretary of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, championed multilateralism as the “only way” to deal with such thorny issues as trade, climate change, other environmental matters, migration and, of course, the pandemic.

We agree.

Ultimately, it seems to us, it is enlightened self-interest for corporations, private and public agencies, nations, people everywhere, to be their brother's keeper.

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