Panellists agreed that no country had a plan in place to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude, shining a light on the gross under-investment in health systems. Photograph : Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
Panellists agreed that no country had a plan in place to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude, shining a light on the gross under-investment in health systems. Photograph : Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

'The Covid-19 catastrophe has been HIV fast-forwarded'

By Shakirah Thebus Time of article published Mar 17, 2021

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Cape Town - Vaccine accessibility for all was the focus of an online discussion hosted by the Dullah Omar Institute.

The discussion was part of a webinar-series marking a year of Covid-19 restrictions, coinciding with Human Rights Month.

The Applied Constitutional Study Laboratory and the Socio-Economic Rights Project at the Dullah Omar Institute, UWC, hosted the discussion on “Covid-19 Vaccines and Human Rights Challenges”.

Panellists agreed that no country had a plan in place to deal with a pandemic of this magnitude, shining a light on the gross under-investment in health systems.

UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng said: “How many countries around the world including in the African region, and South Africa, can really say that they were well-prepared and had a national public health strategy and plan of action for a time such as this.”

Harvard Law School lecturer Alicia Yamin said the idea that global health governance was the way to ensure health equity and human rights realised, has shown itself to be a fantasy.

On the World Health Organization’s Covax facility to ensure equitable access to vaccines, she said, “It was foreseeable from the start that it was going to be radically inadequate but it has now shown itself to be demonstrably inadequate in providing enough vaccines to low and middle-income countries as well as some upper-income countries like Canada.”

She said civil society and mobilisation has been the only thing proven to bring about change.

Divisional head of Ezintsha at the Wits University Professor Francois Venter said: “The Covid-19 catastrophe has been HIV fast-forwarded. The kind of fault lines is exposed in the health systems and societies.

“The dejavu feeling I have of being in 2001, and having lifesaving ARV therapy only there if you’re a rich country and only if you can afford it in South Africa. Which meant if you had HIV, you just died, despite the tablets being there and in many ways that’s what we’re dealing with with the vaccines.”

He said in South Africa, even urban health-care workers, senior politicians and scientists were among the first to be vaccinated.

Cape Argus

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