By Luis Almagro
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Weds. Mar. 10, 2021: The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst public health crisis the modern world has ever faced. It is deeply troubling that the member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) now account for almost half of the number of persons infected with the novel coronavirus globally, and a similar proportion of the people who have died worldwide.
The pandemic has also devastated the economies of the member states, particularly those that are highly dependent on external sources of income, such as tourism.
Unemployment has skyrocketed, poverty and inequality have increased, and investment has declined. The economic outlook is especially gloomy for Small Island Developing States which, by virtue of their size, produce a narrow range of goods and services that are also highly vulnerable to external shocks and natural disasters.
COVID-19 vaccines offer the prospect of supressing the virus and setting every nation on a path to both health and economic recovery. However, access to and distribution of the vaccines is not equal. Based on the current levels of limited vaccine availability and distribution, the pandemic will continue even longer for most of the world’s population, including those in Latin America and the Caribbean, depriving them of their right to life, health and livelihoods.
While I welcome the COVAX facility, led by the World Health Organization, which was designed to help developing countries to secure access to vaccines at affordable prices, I believe that COVAX needs more than pledges of financial support; it urgently needs delivery of the necessary funds to facilitate a fair supply and distribution of vaccines.
No country is safe until every country is safe. Therefore, I join the call for a massive scaling-up of vaccine production and for more affordable pricing to allow developing countries to secure vaccines and inoculate their people.
I also call on all States to facilitate the export, equal access, and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, in accordance with international human rights obligations and the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.
The global pandemic requires a global response based on unity, solidarity, and multilateral cooperation, to ensure that all States have access to vaccines. The Americas, too, need a hemispheric response.
In this regard, I commit the OAS General Secretariat to work with our member states, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and international partners to formulate and implement solutions in the shortest possible time.
Increasing access to the Covid-19 vaccine in the Americas means increasing access to different rights in the Hemisphere such as the right to life, right to health, right to education, and right to sustainable livelihoods.
A hemispheric commitment is necessary to ensure the Americas actively embarks on the road towards post-COVID recovery and growth.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Luis Almagro is the secretary general of the OAS