Charlize Theron and Darren Walker on Ending Global Vaccine Inequality
This month, for the first time in two years, the G20 will meet in Rome to discuss a global, multilateral agenda. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Certainly the member states are feeling the lingering consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. But unfortunately the 175 countries that are not at the table – most of them in the global south – are still facing the worst suffering and highest death rates.
Nowhere is the discrepancy more apparent than in access to vaccines. In places like Los Angeles and New York City, where we both live and have been vaccinated, there are great spreads like this LA forum and the Javits Center have helped both cities, overall 23 million Cans, together.
Meanwhile, we’ve heard from partners and colleagues around the world about the hurdles of getting vaccinated in less affluent parts of the world – from months of waiting to lack of internet access in clinics running out of dose. These barriers add up quickly, while the number of people vaccinated increases too slowly. So far, all of South Africa, the homeland of Charlize, has only 17 million Cans. While 17 of the G20 member states already have at least two thirds of their Populations, the vaccination rate is across the entire African continent less than 5%.
Continue reading: COVAX was a great idea, but now it’s 500 million doses below the vaccine distribution goals. What exactly went wrong?
Many countries in the Global South are suffering from a devastating shortage of vaccine doses – and even those who have access have grown insecurity and vaccination reluctance in vulnerable communities, due to either a lack of information, an excess of misinformation, or both. Without strong, resilient civil society organizations working on the ground to combat misinformation and support meaningful access for those in need, progress towards a fairer recovery will be impossible.
As global leaders, G20 members have an urgent responsibility: to end the immediate crisis of vaccine equality today and to build long-term infrastructure that will protect the world from future pandemics. First and foremost, it means delivering billions of doses to less affluent parts of the world. President Joe Bidens recent commitment Doubling US vaccine donations is a welcome move – but even the 1.1 billion doses it promises will not be enough to achieve global herd immunity. Ending this global health crisis requires more robust and holistic resource sharing.
For example, our current intellectual property regime puts pharmaceutical profits above public health outcomes. We recognize the power of intellectual property protection to drive research, development and innovation. But in the context of a pandemic like this, these protective measures are deadly by limiting the ability of resource-poor countries to produce life-saving vaccines. G20 members must join the more than 100 national governments and hundreds of civil society organizations that have supported the temporary repeal of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS). With this exemption, leaders around the world can finally build vaccine infrastructures that allow countries to manufacture and distribute vaccines quickly, in a collaborative, not competitive, manner.
Most of all, we also need to make sure that we turn the cans made into shots in the arms of those in need. This requires a newly designed and strengthened health infrastructure that is committed to empowering civil society, community health workers and community-based organizations.
Continue reading: The US can and should vaccinate every healthcare worker in the world
Civil society organizations have played a vital role in responding to a pandemic – as watchdogs holding governments accountable and trusted partners and messengers who serve vulnerable communities. From Dallas, Texas to Durban, South Africa, communities that have experienced histories of exploitation, neglect, and marginalization have understandable distrust of the state. Understanding this fact is vital because in many places, such as rural South Africa, suspicion and reluctance towards vaccines continues to grow, creating new barriers to recovery even as more doses become available.
Especially in regions that are characterized by internal conflicts, political tensions, language barriers and social unrest, even well-intentioned distribution policies fail without strong civic engagement and civic action by organizations with a solid foundation of trust and support. We have worked with frontline organizations like that Foundation for small projects, that the Messenger matters. Without robust civil society organizations – including local newsrooms, community centers, and trusted healthcare providers – to break down dangerous COVID-19 conspiracies, vulnerable groups such as women and immigrants are most likely to lack the information necessary to make a healthy decision. In order to create pipelines for a faster and fairer response, the G20 must invest wisely in the work of such organizations.
We both joined it five years ago Thousands by activists in Durban to discuss another virus and global public health crisis: HIV / AIDS. There, at the 21st International AIDS Conference, we encouraged world leaders to fight the racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia that make HIV a treatable disease for some and a death sentence for others. These types of injustices and fear lead to pandemics. Since then, thanks to the fearless leadership of people living with HIV and civil society leaders, we have seen continued advocacy lead to an increased focus and shift of resources to vulnerable populations such as youth and society noticeable political changes such as government approval and formal introduction of the PrEP life-saving HIV prevention scheme in Kenya and increased funding for HIV / AIDS treatment and prevention across the region.
Continue reading: Why there should be a moratorium on COVID-19 booster vaccinations until low-income countries are vaccinated
Today we are trying to drive similar changes to combat inequality and prevent the devastation of the global south from the pandemic. At the Ford Foundation, we are proud to launch a new $ 16 million grant initiative that will advance intellectual property reform, fund public goods, and support civil society organizations working in marginalized communities. And at the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, we work with long-term partners to remove harmful misinformation and vaccination reluctance among adolescents and remove barriers to vaccine access for young people, their families and the underserved communities in which they live.
However, no group has more leverage than the G20 to redistribute vaccine supplies, reinvest in medical and civil society infrastructure, and reshape our global systems with justice, equity and collaboration. Together we can build a more equitable, more evenly prepared world.
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