Vaccinating a significant part of the world's population is widely accepted as the most effective strategy to emerge quickly from the Coronavirus pandemic that we find ourselves in. As of May 20, 2021 however, only 3% of India's population has received both doses of any of the three vaccines that are currently available in the country. On average, only one in every 1000 Indians receives a vaccine dose each day.
India is not the only country that has struggled to vaccinate its population against the Coronavirus. 25% of the population in high income countries has been vaccinated compared to only 0.2% in low income countries. The WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom referred to these inequities in access to the vaccine as “a catastrophic moral failure”.
The current themes of pharmaceutical monopolies and affordable access to health remind us of the global struggle to make anti-retroviral therapy available to people living with HIV-AIDS at a time when the continent of Africa was being ravaged by that disease. That campaign for equitable access to life-saving medicines, with the South African Treatment Action Campaign at its visible core, took place just as the WTO and the TRIPS Agreement had come into existence.
What the AIDS epidemic and the campaign for life-saving medicines helped the world understand better was that the true vector of disease was inequality. The HIV virus disproportionately killed the world's poor and the marginalised.
Covid vaccines can be made available for all people, in all countries, and at speed but only if there is a fundamental transformation in how we currently manufacture and distribute medicines, but it has been done before.
In this episode of the Nagrik Podcast, we learn from a group of activists and scholars who worked on ensuring access to life saving medicines twenty years ago during the HIV-AIDS crisis, and some who today, are working for the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
We hear from:
Achal Prabhala, an activist for access to medicines, whose work spans India, Brazil, and South Africa through the accessibsa project
Anand Grover, a Senior Advocate in India and a founder-member of the Lawyers Collective, who was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health