PM calls for equitable health access

Wealthy countries have more than enough vaccine doses to immunise people beyond their own populations, says PM

by HARIZAH KAMEL / pic by BERNAMA

PRIME Minister (PM) Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (picture) has urged for equitable health access to vaccination being a collective project on the world stage.

In his opening speech at the Nikkei 26th International Conference on The Future of Asia yesterday, Muhyiddin said man-made hurdles are halting efforts to suppress the Covid-19 infections quickly to prevent mutating variants that make the current vaccine obsolete.

He pointed out that wealthy countries have more than enough vaccine doses to immunise people beyond their own populations.

“The wealthiest 27 countries have 35.5% of the vaccines, although they only cover 10.5% of the world’s population.

“Meanwhile, there have been 1.23 billion doses administered across 174 countries so far, with 252 million doses or 20% of the global supply taken up by the US alone,” he said.

In terms of production, Muhyiddin noted that China and India have exported around 200 million and 66 million vaccine doses respectively, while the US and the UK have only exported three million and one million of their vaccine doses.

He welcomed US President Joe Biden’s intention to support the temporary waiver of intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccine, adding that Asia must lead the way in opening up patent protections to produce cheaper generic versions of life-saving medicines for critical diseases, from Covid-19 to HIV/Aids.

“For Asia to effectively prevent and fight pandemics, we need to shift from a purely nationalistic approach to health services to investing in health as a global public good,” he said.

Muhyiddin pressed on growing cries from the majority of the global population with regards to social-economic injustice, citing that “capitalism has created so much wealth and progress on the one hand, and yet so much inequality and instability on the other hand”.

He said public policies must focus much more on the needs of the most vulnerable rather than focusing excessively on making it easier for big investors to increase their wealth, with hopes of trickle-down economic effect.

“A new dashboard of metrics to assess society’s health, such as measures of inequality and economic vulnerability or whether growth is financially and environmentally sustainable, needs to be promoted as part of the recoupling of economic growth and social equity.

“In hindsight, there is a need to reconnect the financial markets economy with the real economy. The relatively cheap debts that currently fuel financial markets’ higher returns do not translate into a better ‘real economy’ performance or job creation,” he said.

The PM asserted that a lack of an effective system of global governance that can speedily respond to the spread of infectious diseases in the age of globalisation, particularly when the forces of nationalism and isolationism still occupy influential positions of global power.

“Hence the United Nations (UN), not for lack of effort, has struggled to reach a landing that would emphasise the urgent need for international cooperation to fight the pandemic and call for a truce in conflicts around the world.

“We have yet to see the kind of urgency of meetings at the UN Security Council, nor the global heads of state coming together to organise, for example, global supply chains in managing the pandemic,” he remarked.

Additionally, the PM also warned of a trust deficit between the world’s so-called “superpowers” over conflicts on trade, technology and other geopolitical issues.

He expressed that the international community urgently needs to agree on a common platform for driving a long-term recovery that is consistent with the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

“Yet, whereas Group of 20 leaders came together in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis to help save the world economy from a deeper collapse, we are now facing an unprecedented lack of global leadership,” said Muhyiddin.