As of yesterday we are back in lockdown, most of us here in Italy once again living in a so-called “red zone”. The numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19, intensive care unit admissions and deaths from the virus continue to rise. Schools have closed and families have been brought to their knees. There is much pain and fear, and pandemic fatigue is setting in. Worse, we no longer even have the energy to envision a better future.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel, and its name is vaccines. Availability is limited: we don’t have enough doses in Italy, and the situation is far worse in Africa. We need more, enough for everyone. This is why COVID-19 vaccine patents must be suspended, so that production can be ramped up. This must be done urgently if we want to prevent the development of new variants that could jeopardize all the progress made up until now. Yet unbelievably, not even during the World Trade Organization meeting last week was an agreement reached on waiving intellectual property rights for the vaccines. India and South Africa continue to press their case while the United States, United Kingdom and European Union Commission argue against it, despite numerous appeals – including one by the World Health Organization signed by CUAMM and many others – asking that these rights be suspended even just temporarily.
Despite all of this, vaccines have begun trickling into Africa thanks to the COVAX initiative and donations from China. While still too few given the size of the continent’s population, they are beginning to arrive – to Sierra Leone (100,000), Mozambique (200,000), Angola (600,000), South Sudan (700,000), Uganda (900,000) and Ethiopia (2,200,000).
CUAMM is now making available our on-the-ground human and logistical resources (personnel, pickups, motorbikes, refrigerators and so on) to local vaccination systems, but these systems are very fragile, and the needs are infinite. We need to do more, devoting every last bit of energy to strengthening logistics, personnel and communities, and providing tools and training; and all of this has to be done right away. That’s why we’ve launched our A Vaccine for Us All initiative, because when greater quantities of the vaccines finally arrive to Africa, distribution mechanisms are going to have to be ready to go and effective. We’ve already seen the challenges faced in Italy; just imagine the situation in the vulnerable countries where CUAMM maintains a presence. They need our hard work and support, and we need everyone’s help in order to provide it. The challenge is daunting, and will require both hearts and minds, but we won’t back down. We need to transform vaccines into actual “shots in the arm”, starting with our local doctors and nurses, who are at especially high risk of infection, and then moving on to everyone else. From Mozambique, where the number of cases is soaring because of the country’s proximity to South Africa, our own Giovanni Putoto puts it in a nutshell, reminding us how “Alongside the appeals, there is so much concrete work that needs to get done”. As always, CUAMM is on the ground ready to do its part, side by side with our local partners.
Thank you for joining us in the enormous challenge called A Vaccine for Us All. Only by working together will we be able to save ourselves from this pandemic.