Inequality, especially during this pandemic, is putting people's lives at risk. NUPGE supports the World Health Organization's call for "building a fairer, healthier world" because a fairer world is a healthier world.
Ottawa (07 April 2021) — The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is supporting the World Health Organization's (WHO) call for a fairer, healthier world. April 7 is World Health Day, and this year, the focus is on the grave health damage caused by inequality.
Pandemic capitalism has shut out the poor
On March 11, 2020, the WHO delcared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) to be a pandemic. Before the pandemic, the world was already a very unfair place, with vast differences in incomes and a disturbing lack of health equality. Sinc ehte pandemic, the race by wealthy countries to secure the world's supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) and vaccines has left poorer countries at even greater risk, unable to afford PPE or vaccines.
Race for vaccines being 'won' by wealthy countries
Every country is in a race to protect its people from the virus and governments are under pressure to show results. Canada alone has signed deals with 7 vaccine suppliers for a total of 40 million doses. Canada has contracted the most vaccines per capita, and with a population of under 40 million, this amounts to over 10 single doses per person. Other wealthy countries are similarly buying up most of the global supply of vaccines.
Canada is vulnerable to the rise of vaccine nationalism, because, unlike many wealthy countries, we have no public capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines domestically. Connaught labs was Canada’s public lab but was privatized, under the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, was sold to the French company Merieux, now part of Sanofi. The Liberal government is now trying to rebuild some domestic vaccine production. But our failure to have public vaccine production has led to our panicked response to buy up vast swaths of vaccines and has deprived poorer countries from vaccine access.
Stopping a pandemic demands a global initiative
Even as governments race to secure vaccines and ensure citizens are inoculated, the virus continues to mutate, causing grave concern that we are losing ground against the disease. One day before this year’s World Health Day, members of the Lancet Covid-19 Commission Task Force on Public Health Measures to Surpress the Pandmic put out a call for urgent action in response to the new variants. The taskforce is calling for ‘"maximum suppression" to prevent emergence of new variants. They cite the need for global equity in vaccine access among a host of recommendations to bolster global response to the pandemic. These experts are warning that unless there is a global response to the pandemic, we will not contain the virus, and our pandemic control efforts could fail.
Wealthy countries must break out of their myopic view of the crisis and support a more global approach to fighting this virus.
Canada, not part of the solution
Unfortunately, despite positive-sounding rhetoric, Canada has not taken action that would support a global initiative to ensure all people get affordable access to COVID-related vaccines, treatments, and technologies. Canada must stop refusing to support the initiative from over 100 countries to temporarily waive intellectual property rights to allow greater access to COVID-19 vaccines.
NUPGE is part of a growing movement to pressure wealthier governments, and NUPGE has signed letters and statements to pressure the Canadian government to take a positive position on this waiver. Unless countries like Canada start to push this initiative, the global recovery from the pandemic will be delayed or jeopardized altogether.
We must all build a fairer, healthier world
The pandemic has shown the critical importance of public health and access to public health care. It has also shown that both within Canada and around the world, health care inequality is causing great damage. The virus has harmed racialized and impoverished communities disproportionately in Canada. The World Bank is predicting that poverty will rise for the first time in 20 years, with as many as an additional 115 million people pushed into extreme poverty.
We need to act to support the most vulnerable here in Canada and around the world. Canada must heed the call to build a fairer, healthier world.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE