MONROVIA–Public health leaders who helped in the containment of the Ebola epidemic have made their case that COVID-19 vaccine technology transfer, open access vaccines for poor countries, and donation of funds and doses for vaccines.
The 30 veterans from the public health response to the 2014 West African Ebola outbreak and over eighty other public health experts from around the world are calling on the World Health Assembly (WHA), to vote in its May 2021 meeting on propositions that would dramatically expand vaccine access in poor countries.
WHA is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations agency responsible for global health issues.
The demands come in an open letter to Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, that is organized by Mosoka Fallah, founder of the Liberian non-profit Refuge Place International (RPI) whose heroic work during the 2014 Ebola epidemic was documented by The New York Times.
From May 24 to June 1, nations will convene at the World Health Assembly to make decisions about the global response to COVID-19. Signatories of the open letter argue that G20 and other wealthy countries must go beyond waiving patents for low-income countries to donate all of their excess doses of COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries that have been outbid for vaccines. The letter reads, “as we learned through the Ebola pandemic, poverty and geography should not be the determinants of access to life-saving vaccines.”
Mosokah Fallah added, “We are at a pivotal moment in human history: will the WHO fulfill its mandate of universal healthcare by instituting universal vaccine care? All eyes are on the WHO.” The letter was assisted by 1Day Africa, the African chapter of 1Day Sooner, a non-profit that advocates for volunteers who want to take part in high-impact medical trials, including COVID-19 human challenge trials.
On Wednesday, May12 2021 at 12pm EST / 4pm GMT, Dr. Fallah, a former Director General of the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL), joined Ezekiel Emanuel, member of President Biden’s transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, Vardit Ravitsky, President of the International Association of Bioethics, and Gita Sen, Director of the Ramalingaswami Centre on Equity and Social Determinants of Health, to discuss their letter to the World Health Assembly.
The virtual event, which was co-organized by Center for Population-Level Bioethics at Rutgers University and 1Day Sooner, was available to all.
“Our world as we know it is on the brink of massive deaths, the collapse of economies and nations. This human calamity can be stopped by a new Marshall Plan- where prosperous nations can freely share their vaccines and resources to poorer nations. The reality of our humanity will be shown when all lives are given the same value irrespective of their geography and economy,” stated Dr. Mosoka Fallah, Ebola Emergency Response Program Manager, Action Contre la Faim, who holds a Master degree in Public Health and Global Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Bondada Subbarao, Professor of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics at the Kentucky College of Medicine remarked: “Global access to the COVID-19 vaccines is paramount to the health of the entire humanity irrespective of nationality. Recent rapid spread of variants in India and other countries underscores the need for a quick global vaccination program as these variants can spread increasingly around the world despite travel restrictions. We already know the devastation the virus can cause to the human health and economies of the countries.”
Nir Eyal, a Henry Rutgers Professor of Bioethics and Director of the Center for Population–Level Bioethics (CPLB) at the Rutgers University, believes that rich countries have a choice to make.
“Rich countries have a choice to make—the repetition of the horrors we are witnessing in Brazil and in India in many other countries, along with hunger of biblical dimensions for many of the world’s economically-vulnerable populations; or sharing our vaccine-plenty, in a serious way. The first choice, besides being morally unconscionable, would ensure the continuing circulation of the virus and the emergence of ever-more dangerous variants, including ones resistant to our vaccines. To avoid returning to square one before long, a COVID vaccine Marshall plan as Mosoka Fallah aptly put it, is the only way forward,” said Nir Eyal.
Among the many experts, Agneta Rosling, Psychiatrist at the Akademiska Sjukhuset, Uppsala University Hospital in Sweden indicated that the epidemic will not end until the entire world population has access to vaccines.
“The epidemic will not end until the entire world population has access to vaccines. We who live in countries with high-income have a great responsibility to ensure that the vaccines become available where the needs are greatest and the health care resources are insufficient,” she added.