The “rampant vaccine nationalism” of wealthy nations and corporations – which saw less than eight percent of Africans fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of 2021 – took centre stage on Monday as one of the world’s best known human rights groups launched its annual report.
Usually at such a launch, the major focus is on the behaviour of governments and armed groups responsible for the most egregious suffering of the victims of violence, torture and other abuse.
However, Amnesty International’s secretary general, Agnès Callamard, set the tone this year when she described promises by world leaders to “build back better” after the virus as “slick slogans”. At a news conference in Johannesburg on Monday, she asked: “Better for whom? Better by what measures? Better in whose interests?”
Introducing a report which accused pharmaceutical companies of making “staggering profits” out of the pandemic, she accused developed nations of putting profit and power ahead of people. The report said the companies BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna were set to earn $130 billion by the end of 2022.
“2021 should have been a year of healing and recuperation,” Callamard added in her preface to the report. “Instead, it became an incubator for greater inequality and instability, not only in 2021, not just for 2022, but for the decade ahead.”
She said that racism has become “further hard-wired into the working of the international system, determining even who lived and who did not – adding to the cruel history of whose lives matter and whose do not.”
Amnesty’s director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, said Covid-19 should have been “a decisive wake-up call to deal with inequality and poverty. Instead, we have seen deeper inequality and greater instability in Africa exacerbated by global powers…”
“Rich and powerful countries used money and their political influence to procure hundreds of millions of doses, shutting poor countries out of the market,” reported Samira Daoud, Amnesty’s West and Central Africa director.
The report said the pandemic also highlighted the continent’s “chronic lack of investment in health sectors” over many years. “The already inadequate healthcare systems in most countries were severely strained, especially during the pandemic’s third wave.”
Recommending action to improve the international response to Covid-19, Amnesty said the response to the pandemic should be built “firmly on a human rights framework”.
“All governments should put in place measures, including legislation, to prevent vaccine developers from impeding access to Covid-19 vaccines,” the report said.
“Richer countries, in particular, must redistribute surplus Covid-19 vaccine stocks to lower-income countries and ramp up debt relief to facilitate economic recovery. Pharmaceutical companies should prioritize deliveries where they are needed the most.”
It also urged social media companies to prevent the dissemination of false or misleading information and said governments should stop using the pandemic as an excuse to silence independent reporting and debate.