The Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the ugly reality of the great divide between the
developed and developing countries, with a large global population at the mercy of the more powerful nations in terms of access to medical facilities and technologies, as well as the movement of products and people.
According to some estimates, ten high-income countries account for almost 70% of Covid doses, despite the fact that just 5.8% of Africans have been vaccinated to date. Rich countries have ensured 61 times more injections per capita than poorer countries, yet they have failed to deliver 1.8 billion doses to developing countries. If 60% of the population is not vaccinated by 2022, the poorest countries will suffer a $2.3 trillion economic loss until 2025.
Further fueling the pandemic-triggered discrimination, several countries have introduced “Covid
passports,” which include personal details, health records, and information about an individual’s
Covid-19 vaccination status, to allow entry to foreigners. In such a scenario, a huge portion of the world's population will undoubtedly be denied access to not only adequate health care but also economic opportunity to improve their lives.
The Conflict between the Developed and Developing Nations
The US, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, the UK, and several other countries have drawn flak from human rights groups, health experts, and non-governmental organizations for their alleged
inequitable and racially discriminatory rollout of the vaccine and other healthcare-related technologies.
India and South Africa have recently been at the forefront of raising the voice of the developing countries against emerging new trade barriers, particularly vaccine discrimination and COVID passports. India is seeking a relaxation of industrial designs and the protection of undisclosed information under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) in order to increase the global manufacturing capability of Covid vaccines, which would result in better pandemic management by providing equitable access to vaccine to all nations.
In response, the World Trade Organization (WTO) met in November to discuss a proposal put forward by South Africa and India to waive the vaccine patent, allowing vaccine technology and know-how to be shared. Over 100 countries have endorsed the plan. A petition to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has also been submitted. It calls on the committee to follow an “early warning and early action” procedure to end the biases resulting from arbitrary decisions taken by certain nations.
If the WTO adopts the waiver proposal and addresses the increasing trade barriers favorably, it will be a watershed event for the world. The organization's positive response to the pandemic will have far-reaching consequences for changing national policies and withdrawal of laws or regulations that perpetuate racial, social, and economic inequality wherever it occurs.
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