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World on brink of 'catastrophic moral failure': WHO chief

Dr Tedros blasts wealthy nations for hogging Covid-19 vaccines

GENEVA: The world is on the brink of a "catastrophic moral failure" if rich countries hog Covid-19 vaccine doses while the poorest suffer, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus denounced the "me-first" attitude of wealthy nations. He also blasted vaccine manufacturers for chasing regulatory approval in rich countries rather than submitting their data to the WHO to green-light vaccine use globally.

Speaking at the opening of the WHO executive board meeting, Dr Tedros said 39 million doses of coronavirus vaccines had been administered in at least 49 higher income countries.

Meanwhile, "just 25 doses have been given in one lowest income country. Not 25 million; not 25,000; just 25," said the WHO director-general.

"I need to be blunt. The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure - and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world's poorest countries."

He said even as some countries pronounced reassuring words on equitable access, they were prioritising their own deals with manufacturers, driving up prices and trying to jump the queue. He said 44 such deals were struck in 2020 and at least 12 have been signed this year.

"The situation is compounded by the fact that most manufacturers have prioritised regulatory approval in rich countries where the profits are highest, rather than submitting full dossiers to WHO," he said.

"Not only does this me-first approach leave the world's poorest and most vulnerable people at risk, it's also self defeating.

"Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, prolong our pain, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering."

The WHO has only approved emergency use validation for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and Dr Tedros urged other manufacturers to come forward with their data for regulatory review.

Covax, the WHO co-led globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort, has struck agreements with five manufacturers for two billion vaccine doses.

It aims to secure vaccines for 20 per cent of the population in each participating country by the end of the year, with funding covered for the 92 lower- and lower-middle income economies involved. - AFP

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