President Lazarus Chakwera has expressed frustration over inequalities and disparities in accessing Covid-19 vaccines across the globe.
In a pre-recorded contribution to the General Debate of the 76th Session of the United General Assembly (Unga) currently underway in New York, United States (US), he pleaded with developed countries to release both the vaccine doses and vaccine production rights immediately.
Chakwera said although poor countries such as Malawi have kept Covid-19 under control, the preventive measures currently being used “are not sustainable as the virus keeps mutating and spreading.
He said: “It is reported that half a billion vaccine doses being kept by developed countries will expire in three months. What are you waiting for? Release the vaccines. Release the vaccine doses and the vaccine production rights to save human lives.”
The President said it was disappointing that at such a global and coveted gathering, poor nations like Malawi are rubbing shoulders with nations that are now administering booster shots while most poor people from developing nations are yet to get their first jab.
“This form of vaccine nationalism is wrong. It is insensitive. And it must end. Release the vaccines,” he said.
Global leaders, in a sideline event on health during the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday also voiced similar concerns and called for the urgent scaling up of Covid-19 vaccine production and access in the wake of a pandemic that has caused unprecedented economic loss and bankrupted health care systems in Africa.
In addition, only a handful of countries have met their commitment to devote at least 15 percent of their national budget lines to improving and maintaining adequate healthcare systems.
However, Chakwera told the meeting that Malawi has brought under control the three waves of Covid-19 pandemic without even using lockdowns.
He said his Tonse government has also constructed and staffed recovery centres in record time, stressing that the administration has also treated Covid-19 patients and registered a recovery rate of over 85 percent.
“We have cut infection rates down from 40 percent to less than 5 percent; we have kept the death toll from Covid-19 below 3 000, and we have facilitated monthly cash transfers to support thousands of households exposed to loss of income by the pandemic,” he said.
The US has since pledged to donate 500 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine to developing nations from next year.
President Joe Biden made the pledge at a virtual Covid-19 summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, promising an “arsenal of vaccines”. The additional jabs, he said, will see the total US commitment on vaccine sharing exceeding one billion jabs.
Health experts say some 11 billion doses are required to vaccinate at least 70 percent of the global population. The World Health Organisation has set a minimum target of 40 percent vaccine coverage in every country by the end of 2021.
Commenting on the accumulation of debt, Chakwera, who took over the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) chairmanship last month and also chairs the 46-member Least Developed Countries (LDCs), pleaded with the assembly to help Malawi and other poor countries recover from the economic devastation which has resulted in debt accumulation because of the pandemic.
Malawi’s public debt was seen at K4.8 trillion in nominal terms, or 54 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) at end December 2020, a surge from K4.1 trillion in June 2020 or 65 percent of GDP.
The reduction in the value of public debt as a ratio of GDP in the two time periods was due to the rebasing of GDP which saw the country’s size of the economy increasing to $10.9 billion (about K8.1 trillion) from around $8.5 billion in 2019.
Chakwera pleaded with rich nations and lenders to cancel the debt.
“This is the single most impactful thing that would help developing nations like Malawi build back better and not be left behind.
“We already have a Social Economic Recovery Programme for addressing the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic. But what is missing is the debt cancellation that will help us focus on recovery,” he said.