President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday that if wealthy nations hogged Covid-19 shots while millions in poor countries died waiting for them it would amount to “vaccine apartheid”.

SA and India have been pushing for a waiver on some intellectual property (IP) rights for vaccines and medicines at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

US President Joe Biden backed the proposal last week, though it may still take months to reach a deal.

Ramaphosa called on South Africans to support the waiver in his weekly newsletter, saying vaccines should be “a global public good”.

“It is about affirming our commitment to the advancement of equality and human rights, not just in our own country but around the world,” he wrote.

“A situation in which the populations of advanced, rich countries are safely inoculated while millions in poorer countries die in the queue would be tantamount to vaccine apartheid.”

Sub-Saharan Africa has administered the fewest vaccines relative to its population of any region, with about eight doses per 1,000 people vs 150 doses per 1,000 people globally, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Ramaphosa recalled that 20 years ago SA faced off against “big pharma” over efforts to import and manufacture affordable generic antiretroviral medicines to treat people with HIV/Aids.

“Years later, the world is in the grip of another deadly pandemic in the form of Covid-19. And once again, SA is waging a struggle that puts global solidarity to the test,” he said.

Ramaphosa said SA was one of only five countries on the African continent able to manufacture vaccines and that there was a need for new capacity to be built.

SA has ordered enough Covid-19 vaccines for 46-million of its 60-million people via bilateral deals with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer. The J&J shots will be made locally by Aspen Pharmacare.

Reuters

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