No one is safe until everyone is safe – IFMSA Reflections on the 148th WHO Executive Board Meeting

After some weeks of preparation and eagerly waiting, we finally started the 148th Session of the World Health Organization Executive Board Meeting on the 18th of January, which marked the opening of one of the most high-level meetings worldwide concerning health and security. Exciting as the opening ceremony proved to be, the discussions and statements provided a critical view on the measures and means to contain the pandemic. Amid all the hopeful as well as disconcerting and gloomy statements and reports we heard and received, one topic stood out strongly: Member States are in support of equitable distribution and roll-out of vaccines, according to their statements. However, per the Statement read by the Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,  in 49 high- income countries over 39 million vaccine doses had been received but low-income countries had only received 25 doses so far. This, he referred, showed “a catastrophic moral failure”. 

Reports from the World Health Assembly session last November showed that most of these same countries had called for vaccine equity unequivocally. This is what makes the current situation in low-income countries all the more heart-breaking. Perhaps, the most disturbing notion is that there is no mention of a comprehensive plan to address the vaccine distribution gap, other than supporting the COVAX Facility and the ACT accelerators, which some countries decided to surpass by choosing vaccine nationalism instead. 

It is imperative that countries begin to walk the talk. We look forward to these statements to be translated into actions rather than just attractive stances. We need to constantly remind ourselves that we need to take action understanding that it is more efficient and fairer to vaccinate a few people in all countries than to vaccinate all people in a few countries. This is especially urgent for frontline healthcare workers including students, to provide protection and slow down the spread of disease. This issue was further addressed by the Director-General during his report when he challenged the Member States to vaccinate the healthcare workers in 100 days. We must show that we have and are taking the ‘lessons of the pandemic’ very seriously. No one anywhere is safe until all people everywhere are safe.

As the meeting has come to an end, let’s ensure together that these words are truly put into action, since – as Dr Tedros reiterated in his closing statement – “It is in every Nation’s own interest to ensure vaccine equality”. 

– from all of us at the 148th World Health Organization Executive Board Meeting.

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