Commonwealth health ministers have called for swift and equal access to Covid-19 vaccines for everyone around the world.
They expressed deep concern over the stark gaps in access and delivery of doses, especially in poor countries, and called for "fair and transparent" pricing for the vaccine in a joint statement Friday on behalf of the 54 Commonwealth member countries.
Only 0.3% of the life-saving vaccine doses have been administered in 29 poor countries. About 84% of shots have been given in high and upper-middle-income countries.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: "The science is clear: vaccination works and is the clear and only sustainable route out of this pandemic for the whole world."
"The rise of new variants shows that until everyone is safe no one is safe. No plan to tackle this virus will work until everyone agrees to work together."
"We must talk with each other to move away from some stockpiling vaccines, while many low-middle income countries still do not have access to the much-needed vaccine supplies for the vulnerable populations in their countries. So, cooperation to develop a global immunisation plan to deliver equal access to vaccines must be a top priority," Patricia added.
The Commonwealth health ministers appreciated the global vaccine equity initiative "COVAX" and encouraged all partners to support government efforts on boosting vaccine confidence and immunisation drives.
Recognising the acute gaps in research and development of new tests, vaccines and therapies in the Commonwealth, they stressed enhanced collaboration with scientists, academics and business leaders.
Speaking at the meeting, the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "Vaccines are reducing severe disease and death in countries that are fortunate enough to have them in sufficient quantities, and early results suggest that vaccines might also drive down transmission."
"The shocking global disparity in access to vaccines remains one of the biggest risks to ending the pandemic. We seek the support of the Commonwealth in solving the global vaccine crisis by funding the ACT Accelerator, advocating for greater sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property, and sharing doses with COVAX."
The ministers further backed a potential treaty on the fight against pandemics and a Commonwealth mechanism to share and distribute extra medical supplies such as ventilators and medicines.
They called on the heads of government to allocate resources for strengthening health systems, especially through primary healthcare, towards attaining universal health coverage.
Maintaining essential health services
New data shows 60 immunisation campaigns for other health threats are now suspended in 50 countries due to Covid-19. Such delays could cause significant avoidable mortality.
Disruptions to HIV/AIDS services, for instance, could lead to five thousand excess deaths globally.
So, the ministers committed to keeping essential health services running and sustaining the gains made towards tackling threats such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, avoidable blindness and non-communicable diseases while dealing with an influx of Covid-19 cases.
In their statement, they further voiced their support for a common framework for sovereign debt treatments, cooperation with the WHO and improved compliance with the International Health Regulations for preventing the spread of disease.
This is the second time that Commonwealth health ministers met virtually for their annual gathering due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The meeting, hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat, took place on 20 and 21 May.