African Faith Leaders Urges Global Covid-19 to ‘Make Bold Commitments’

Cape Town — An African religious leader has urged a global coronavirus summit to give low- and middle-income countries more control over the supply of Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.

The Anglican archbishop of Southern Africa, Thabo Makgoba, made the call at a meeting of faith leaders alongside the main summit, co-hosted by the United States, Senegal, Belize, Germany and Indonesia.

The White House summit was addressed on Thursday by leaders including President Joe Biden of the United States, Senegal’s President Macky Sall and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa. The side event was arranged by Faiths4Vaccines, a multifaith coalition of U.S. religious leaders, and the U.S. government aid agency, USAID. It featured representatives of faiths throughout the world.

Archbishop Makgoba highlighted the control over Covid-19 supplies exercised by wealthy nations, and urged them “to build on the common good that we’ve created over years within the global community”.

“Access to life-saving Covid-19 vaccines cannot be dependent on people’s wealth, status, or nationality,” he said. “We cannot abdicate our responsibilities to our sisters and brothers by imagining that the market can be left to resolve the crisis or pretend to ourselves that we have no obligation to others in our shared humanity.

“The virus does not carry a passport,” he added. “So our problem in the global south will impact even those that have had four, five or six shots. We can’t have values which say, ‘Let’s help ourselves first and leave the others with none.’ Those are the values that create hesitancy, that diminish trust.”

Speaking against the backdrop of delays by the U.S. Congress in funding international efforts to combat aids, Archbishop Makgoba appealed to world leaders to “make bold commitments, with proper funding.” He warned that “without funding, the U.S. will have to cut short efforts to get vaccines into arms”.

Apart from funding issues, he urged leaders to address structural impediments to getting Covid-19 supplies to poorer nations.

“We require power shifts to give low- and middle-income countries control of the supply of Covid [supplies],” he urged. “And please, U.S.A., do the right thing and back a full waiver of intellectual property rights [at the World Trade Organisation].”

Civil society activists are advocating that temporary waivers of intellectual property rights on vaccines are inadequate to address the Covid-19 crisis. They also want waivers to cover new drugs which can be used to treat at-risk patients if administered early enough.

“Scientists have done and continue to do their work splendidly,” Archbishop Makgoba said. “Now leaders from other fields and walks of life – government, pharmaceutical companies… business must match what the scientists have done.”

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