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While the poor get poorer ...

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Screens show John Nkengasong, left, Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and moderator Julia Chatterley during a remote panel titled “The Challenge of Vaccine Equity”, at the Davos Agenda 2022, in Cologny near Geneva, Switzerland, on January 18. The Davos Agenda, which ran from January 17 to 21, was an online edition owing to the coronavirus disease outbreak and gathered global leaders to shape the principles, policies and partnerships needed in this challenging context (Photograph by Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/AP)

The World Economic Forum, a gathering that includes some of the world’s richest people and normally takes place in Davos, Switzerland, wrapped up last month, after a period of pandemic-induced virtual discussions. The glitzy affair served as an ironic backdrop to the publishing of Oxfam International’s grim 2022 Report on Global Inequality, highlighting the significant implications of the pandemic.

Oxfam is a consortium of global charities based in Britain. Its most recent report points out that during the past two years, the income of 99 per cent of the world’s population has fallen, while the income of the ten richest men has doubled on the coat-tails of Covid-19 — from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion. The implications from that reality include:

• 160 million more people globally have been pushed into poverty

• An additional 21,000 people dying per day, which equates to one person every four seconds

• Countless deaths through malnutrition or lack of adequate healthcare

Oxfam has made recommendations to the World Economic Forum with a view to transforming the existing system. They include a tax on the “profiteering from the pandemic”, and making a case that a fair tax on those extraordinary profits could go a long way to cover the “gaps” in the health and other social systems across the globe.

These charities are also recommending transforming any laws and protocols that lead to systemic discrimination on the basis of race, gender, etc. Oxfam is also calling for a waiver during the pandemic on intellectual property rights, thus opening global access to immunisation and ending what is called vaccine apartheid.

John Nkengasong, the Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Forum that it was totally unacceptable that the present process of global immunisation, which puts “profits before people”, has meant that only 7 per cent of the 1.2 billion people of Africa are fully vaccinated at this point.

Peter S. Goodman, a New York Times reporter, has just published a book, Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World, which drills down on many of the details on the reality that is outlined in Oxfam’s 2022 report. Goodman goes on to explore the “walk” rather than the “talk” that has been taking place.

The author cites a particular board member of Davos, who at the 2021 forum had arrogantly tried to make the case that chief executives such as himself were the real heroes of the pandemic — rather than the frontline workers.

That CEO, Marc Benioff from Salesforce, based his claim on how he pulled strings in China to get 50 million pieces of personal protective equipment — masks, gowns, etc — for medical workers across the United States during the height of the crisis. Goodman points out that a Silicon Valley CEO having to collect those vital items shows how bankrupt the US health system is — a situation created by the stranglehold that Big Money has over the American political system. This system hamstrings the provision of effective and efficient medical care for the vast majority. (The US health system spends twice as much for medical care than other developed countries, with much lower outcomes.)

Another example of this stranglehold reported by Goodman is that the same CEO, who is relatively generous as a philanthropist, has made sure that his company’s billions in revenue had resulted in them paying zero dollars of federal tax in at least two of the past three or four years.

Goodman goes on to point out that while the companies who have “cornered the market” on the vaccines — having benefited from a foundation of billions of dollars of research at universities and the National Institute of Health — this is paid for by the taxpayer. However, the “profit before people” approach is maintaining vaccine apartheid.

This results in extreme vaccine shortages in Africa, Asia and other less developed areas, leading to breeding grounds for variants. The lack of vaccines in India resulted in Delta and the same in South Africa resulted in Omicron, although these two countries have the technological capacity to leverage global access of the vaccine — if sanity prevails on the matter of the waiver of intellectual property rights.

Consequently, we are experiencing another global spike because of Omicron, which has had a significant impact on economies and children’s education, among other things.

This matter is no doubt a moral question. However, it is clear that we do not need rocket science to figure out that no one is safe until everyone is safe!

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

Author and New York Times reporter Peter S. Goodman
Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

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Published February 02, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated February 01, 2022 at 5:44 pm)

While the poor get poorer ...

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