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The COVID-19 pandemic has inflicted high costs on the health and socio-economic well-being of people globally. At a time when the world faces the worst health crisis of all times, and as world leaders look for ways to shore up their countries’ economies, all eyes are on the G20. Representing around two-thirds of the world population, generating 85 per cent of the global GDP and accounting for 75 per cent of international trade, G20 countries together have a great potential to rise-up to the challenge and work together in facilitating timely, equitable and universal access to safe, affordable, quality and effective vaccines. International organisations such as World Health Organisation and World Trade Organisation have unanimously emphasized the importance of international cooperation in ensuring the smooth flow of vaccines across countries. Vaccine trade has emerged as an important factor in global diplomacy. In forums like the G20 as well, immunization has been recognized as the most important tool against the pandemic.

World Trade in Vaccines

In the last five years, the world exports of vaccines has risen sharply from USD 22,649 million in 2016 to USD 30,784 million in 2020. This trend has been mainly driven by advanced G20 economies, such as France, US, Italy, UK, India and Germany.

However, what is interesting to note is that while the value of world exports of vaccines has risen, the value of G20’s (excluding EU) exports of vaccines to the world has dipped, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Between 2019 and 2020, the exports from G20 countries has witnessed a dip of 13%.

Source: UN Comtrade and ITC Statistics

Rising Inequality in Vaccine Distribution

The world is witnessing two inter-related problems. On one hand while the virus is moving at a uniformly fast pace across countries, the global distribution of vaccines is moving at an extremely non-uniform pace. WTO estimates suggest that while more than six billion doses have been produced and administered globally, only 1.4 percent of population in poorer countries have been fully vaccinated, compared to 58 percent in rich countries. Analysis done by a science analytics firm- Airfinity further highlights the severity of this vaccine inequity. It suggests that the COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered per capita to G20 countries are fifteen times higher than those delivered per capita in low-income countries and three times higher than those delivered in all countries combined. Deep diving into the data of vaccine exports from G20 countries suggests that about 64 percent of the grouping’s total vaccine exports went to high-income countries, whereas merely 36 percent went to low and middle-income countries, indicating the huge inequity in vaccine supply.

The World Health Organization has highlighted vaccine inequity as the “world’s biggest obstacle to ending the pandemic and recovering from COVID-19.” A recent report by Economist Intelligence Unit suggests that nations that fail to vaccinate 60% of their population by mid-2022 could possibly lose US $2.3 trillion of GDP in 2022-25. It is estimated that two-thirds of these losses could accrue to Emerging Market Economies. In fact, the risks emerging from such inequity also has the potential to reverse the progress made by countries towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The solution here lies in ensuring vaccine equity. That is the only way to hasten the end of the pandemic. It will not only increase the immunization of the global population, but protect the health care system, provide stimulus to the economies worldwide and in some ways reduce the risks of new mutations of the virus. While equitable distribution of vaccines is important, it is also important to ensure fair and sustainably priced vaccines for all. A highly priced COVID-19 vaccine may only add to the financial burden of the low and middle income countries. Inclusivity in this entire process should be a priority.

India can and should lead the way

The G20 over the next three years is going to be presided by three developing countries- Indonesia, followed by India and Brazil. This is going to be a historical moment as it will be the first time that the G20 presidency will be held by three developing countries back-to-back. In fact, these are those countries who have been among the worst hit due to the pandemic, both, in terms of number of infections and deaths. For India, the G20 has been an important platform to push for an inclusive global economic architecture that seeks to achieve equitable outcomes. Being the world’s third-largest producer of pharmaceuticals and one of the biggest producers of vaccines in the world, India, has supported the global community on several fronts. The G20 presidency will be an excellent opportunity for it to put forward its healthcare agenda. India’s ‘One Earth One Health’ vision outlined by the Prime Minister during the Rome Summit in 2021, aimed at a collaborative approach in the international domain in the fight against Covid-19 will be an important area to push for. Secondly, emergency use authorisation of vaccines is another area that India must put on the table during its G20 presidency in 2023. This will allow it to make available its indigenously produced Covaxin to the world, which is being produced at a rapid pace at the moment. Finally, the waiver of intellectual property rights is extremely critical in order to mobilise additional manufacturers and help address vaccine disparities. India, through its G20 presidency, can play a pivotal role in bridging inequities persisting across countries in access and availability of vaccines.

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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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