Pakistan’s vaccination campaignOn July 17, 2021, COVAX gave 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Islamabad, Pakistan. These doses are an addition to five million COVID-19 vaccines already delivered to Pakistan by COVAX. By July 17, 2021, Pakistan had fully vaccinated 4.5 million people and partially vaccinated 18 million people. The new batch of vaccines will assist the government of Pakistan’s vaccination campaign, which started in February 2021.

The COVAX Initiative

COVAX, an international coalition led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, WHO, CEPI and UNICEF, aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. These organizations have teamed up with manufacturers to secure COVID-19 vaccine doses as well as manage the “freight, logistics and storage” of the vaccines.

Through COVAX, vaccines will be delivered to “92 low- and lower-middle-income countries” as well as “more than 97 upper-middle-income and high-income nations.” With these vaccine equity efforts, COVAX aids more than 80% of the global population. So far, COVAX has assisted Pakistan’s vaccination campaign by supplying 2.4 million doses of AstraZeneca, roughly 100,000 doses of Pfizer and 2.5 million Moderna vaccines to Pakistan.

COVID-19 in Pakistan

Pakistan was seeing slow economic improvement prior to the pandemic with yearly per capita growth averaging just 2%. Since the onset of COVID-19, Pakistan has now surpassed one million COVID-19 cases with more than 24,000 deaths. Furthermore, COVID-19’s impacts have left about 50% of the working class jobless and many of those who retained employment saw their income decrease. Informal and lower-skilled employees were the most impacted by unemployment. Like many countries, poverty has risen in Pakistan, with more than two million people pushed under the international poverty line in 2020. According to the World Bank, poverty incidence increased from 4.4% to 5.4% in the 2020 fiscal year.

Pakistan’s Vaccination Campaign

In the months following the lift of lockdowns in May 2020, Pakistan’s economy had been slowly recovering as the industry and service sectors became more active and production increased. Pakistan’s vaccination campaign is essential to stop the spread of COVID-19 and continue economic progress.

The World Health Organization’s Pakistan representative, Dr. Palitha Mahipala, praised the country’s vaccination campaign. She described the reach of the vaccination effort as a “remarkable achievement.” According to Dr. Mahipala, Pakistan distributes COVID-19 vaccines equitably, reaching citizens in even the most remote areas of Pakistan. Another UNICEF Pakistan representative, Aida Girma, says that the latest delivery of 1.2 million doses comes at a “critical time” as the Pakistani government aims to significantly boost its vaccination campaign to reach a greater portion of the population.

Looking to the Future

According to the World Bank, “the global economy is expected to expand 4% in 2021, assuming an initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout becomes widespread throughout the year.” Furthermore, according to the World Economic Forum, equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines means “10 major economies could be $466 billion better off by 2025.” These projections show that COVID-19 vaccination campaigns support economic recovery, nationally and internationally. With further support, there is hope for the full vaccination of Pakistan’s population in the near future, which will help boost the country’s recovering economy, contributing to overall global economic recovery.

Gene Kang
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

COVID-19 vaccinations in HaitiHaiti faces a surge in COVID-19 cases, while also being the only COVAX member in the Americas to not commence administering vaccines. Despite reporting low infection rates at the start of the pandemic, Haitian hospitals are now overwhelmed with an influx of patients. With a deficit of resources and infected patients being turned away, there is a desperate need for the commencement of COVID-19 vaccinations in Haiti.

Haiti Before the Surge

Haiti confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on March 19, 2020. The country immediately implemented a complete shutdown by way of closing schools, quarantining visitors and prohibiting public gatherings. Officials also advised that citizens wear masks. By June 2020, the country reported 2,500 COVID-19 cases, leaving Haiti at a relatively low number of reported cases compared to other countries. However, experts have argued that the number of reported cases in Haiti falls substantially lower than the actual number of existing cases due to an overwhelming lack of testing resources and facilities.

Widespread misinformation about COVID-19 leaves many Haitians unwilling to get tested and unwilling to follow precautionary measures. With Haiti largely left to its own devices in handling COVID-19, certain factors, including the inadequate medical care system and high poverty rates, make it difficult for infected patients to receive or afford proper medical care.

Poverty also leads to overcrowded districts and the inability to buy face masks, while poor sanitation increases the spread of disease. Even before experiencing the largest spike of cases since the start of COVID-19, Haiti proved extremely vulnerable to COVID-19. In 2018, Haiti declared its goal of achieving universal healthcare coverage by 2030. However, as the “most impoverished country in the western hemisphere,” the road to achieving universal healthcare contains several obstacles.

The Spike of COVID-19 cases

On June 25, 2021, Haiti reported upward of 18,000 cumulative cases and more than 400 cumulative deaths, with nearly 2,300 of the cases occurring in the span of just a month. The Associated Press reports that the government declared a health emergency on May 24, 2021, by imposing a curfew and compelling people to take preventative safety measures. However, many people are unable to avoid large crowds in marketplaces or on public transportation while others simply cannot afford face masks.

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Haiti can be largely attributed to more people getting tested and seeking treatment. Additionally, other variants of COVID-19 could be to blame. Due to the seemingly low number of reported cases earlier in the year, authorities reduced the number of beds allocated for COVID-19 patients. With the rise in cases, hospitals are now at capacity, having to turn patients away.

The Need for COVID-19 Vaccines

Although vaccinating citizens would aid in fighting the pandemic, officials have yet to start COVID-19 vaccinations in Haiti. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) announced an aid plan to facilitate vaccine delivery to Haiti. This first shipment will contain the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine procured through COVAX, a global vaccine initiative that ensures vaccine equity by securing COVID-19 vaccines for low-income countries. PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne asserts that the global community needs to help strengthen Haiti’s response to COVID-19, unifying despite political differences to make COVID-19 treatment a top priority.

As of June 9, 2021, Haiti had still not received any vaccines. The country was supposed to receive more than 750,000 doses of AstraZeneca in May 2021, but the delivery was “delayed due to the government’s concern over possible clotting as a side effect and a lack of infrastructure to keep the vaccines properly refrigerated.”

Doctors express concerns that even if the doses do arrive, there will be challenges in the vaccination rollout. Young adults, who largely ignore government mandates, comprise much of the population. Additionally, gang violence makes it difficult for people to safely venture to clinics and health centers. Nevertheless, officials hope that any delay with COVID-19 vaccinations in Haiti will cease.

Domestic and Global Solutions

As residents await the launch of COVID-19 vaccinations in Haiti, grassroots organizations aid in the fight against the pandemic. Heart to Heart International, an organization dedicated to improving global healthcare, directs community health workers to teach market vendors and the surrounding community in Haiti about preventative techniques, hygienic practices and the detection of COVID-related symptoms.

GlobalGiving is a nonprofit platform that connects other nonprofits to donors. Through GlobalGiving, Economic Stimulus Projects for Work and Action (ESPWA) looked to raise more than $5,000 for the COVID-19 response in Haiti. Through the first phase of its initiative, the organization has supported 19 communities with more than 40,000 residents by providing seeds to local farmers to sustain agriculture and by supporting a microloan program to assist small businesses. ESPWA also supported the creation of a soapmaking business to generate sustainable income and promote hygiene.

On July 14, 2021, Haiti received 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines from the United States. With more powerful countries reaching out a helping hand, the campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in Haiti can begin with a higher chance of success.

– Cory Utsey
Photo: Unsplash

increased poverty in PalestineThe Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been ongoing for more than 70 years, has placed strain on the economic stability of Palestinian citizens. In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has further contributed to the economic challenges that people have faced in Palestine, leading to a widespread and worsening state of poverty. Increased poverty in Palestine calls for increased international aid and support.

Poverty in Palestine

A large portion of Palestine’s population lives below the poverty line and cannot afford food, clothing and shelter. In 2017, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) found that one in every three Palestinians lived in poverty, equating to almost 30% of people. The Gaza Strip had the highest concentration of citizens living in poverty at a rate of 53%.

Inadequate work opportunities and low wages play a large role in poverty in Palestine. Research indicates that the job status of the head of the house greatly impacts the risk of poverty. The PCBS also found that 42.1% of households whose heads did not have a steady job lived in poverty compared to 25.8% of households with an employed head of the house.

This is especially alarming when one takes the unemployment rate into account as 43.1% of Gaza’s citizens were unemployed in the last quarter of 2020. The average monthly wage for those with a steady source of income in Gaza is a mere 682 ILS (about $207). Many people earn below the minimum wage, making it difficult for Palestinians to pull themselves out of poverty.

The Effect of COVID-19 on Poverty

The COVID-19 pandemic destroyed the little progress that Palestine made toward economic stability. While Palestinians were able to narrowly dodge the first wave of the pandemic, the next two waves destroyed economic gains. The World Bank predicted that “after growth of a mere 1% in 2019,” the Palestinian economy may contract by a minimum of 7.6% in 2020. In addition, due to decreased revenue, the financing gap could increase from $800 million in 2019 to more than $1.5 billion in 2020. Vaccines have become an issue as well.

Although the U.N. released a statement declaring that Israel is responsible for providing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel excluded Palestinians from the vaccination campaign until recently. Israel prioritized only Palestinians working in Israel, overlooking the millions of Palestinians living in or near Gaza, for whom Israel has allotted only 5,000 doses.

Without vaccines, Palestinians are unable to leave their homes for work and food, plunging them further into poverty. The international COVAX scheme, backed by the WHO, should cover up to 20% of vaccine requirements for Palestinians. Palestinians have also sourced “limited quantities of vaccines from elsewhere” but have a long way to go to achieve herd immunity.

Education in Palestine

Many Palestinian children no longer have access to safe schooling. A U.N. report detailing the violence keeping children out of school mentions “threats of demolition, clashes on the way to school between students and security forces, teachers stopped at checkpoints and violent actions of Israeli forces and settlers on some occasions.”

These conditions impacted more than 19,000 children in the 2018 school year, limiting their ability to safely obtain an education. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the struggles of securing an education, especially for the impoverished population of Palestine. The Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights reports that 34.83% of Palestinian students could not join virtual classes due to a lack of resources and internet connection.

Due to a lack of education and opportunities, Israeli officers have arrested many children trying to cross the Israeli border for a better life. As of April 2021, 71.4% of children who attempted to cross the border were school dropouts trying to escape increased poverty in Palestine.

Organizations Working to Reduce Poverty

Organizations like UNICEF are addressing the education crisis through initiatives such as the Life Skills and Citizenship Education Initiative, which began in 2015. The program focuses on enhancing life skills and improving citizenship education. UNICEF also conducts “entrepreneurship skills programs for adolescents to support their future employment.” The program includes internships and career counseling.

In 2020, the World Food Programme (WFP) spent $57 million of U.S. funding to ease poverty in Palestine, assisting more than 430,000 citizens. This included 33% of women-led households and 4.3% of the disabled population. The WFP provided cash-based transfers, food packages and “agriculture assets and training” to address increased poverty in Palestine.

The Road Ahead

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has severely worsened the state of poverty in Palestine as citizens end up in the crossfire. However, the ceasefire that Palestinian and Israeli officials announced in May 2021 may be a step in the direction of safety and stability for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Greater international support will help lower poverty rates and raise the quality of life in Palestine.

Mariam Abaza
Photo: pixabay

Vaccine Diplomacy in AfricaGlobal COVID-19 vaccine distributions aim to combat the pandemic. However, not all rollouts are equally fast and smooth and coverage is inconsistent. The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Africa is indicative of vaccine inequity. Vaccine nationalism and vaccine inequity will only prolong the pandemic in the long run. Vaccine diplomacy in Africa is important to ensure that no continent goes overlooked.

Diplomacy in Global Health

According to Dr. Peter Hotez, a leading expert in global health, vaccine diplomacy employs vaccine delivery and distribution to advance global health by eliminating diseases. It also has the potential to advance international relations and neutralize conflict, among other pragmatic uses. Governments recognize that COVID-19 negatively impacts economic development, national security and foreign policy interests.

Global health is increasingly important in an age of globalization as governments become more connected. Governments use vaccine diplomacy to improve relations with other countries. Hotez recognizes the three elements of global health diplomacy as core diplomacy, multistakeholder diplomacy and informal diplomacy. Core and multistakeholder diplomacy can best describe COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy in Africa.

The Initial Success of COVAX

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) co-leads the COVAX initiative aiming to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines equitably across the world. This is an example of multistakeholder vaccine diplomacy in Africa. Since the COVAX rollout began, GAVI has reported on its successes and shortfalls in Africa. Africa’s preparedness has paid off.

GAVI reported that nearly 40 African countries had national vaccination plans in place before rollouts began, smoothing the way for rapid and smooth rollouts. However, a lack of preparedness among some countries and dwindling vaccine supplies create challenges. GAVI emphasizes that as of April 2021, “less than 2% of the 780 million COVID-19 vaccine doses given globally have been administered in Africa.” Ongoing vaccine donations will be necessary to sustain COVAX’s strong start in Africa.

Vaccine Diplomacy in Africa

In addition to initiatives like COVAX, several countries have employed the concept of core diplomacy to donate millions of vaccines more directly. China is a major participant in this type of vaccine diplomacy in Africa. According to Think Global Health, several African countries have received pledges of free doses from multiple donors. In May 2021, in an act of diplomacy, China announced that it was donating COVID-19 vaccines to at least 40 African countries.

Distribution often ties closely to political agendas rather than a country’s actual needs. Of the 72 total beneficiary countries chosen by China, 70 are partners in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, “an ambitious global infrastructure project that aims to increase Chinese influence, develop new investment opportunities and strengthen economic and trade cooperation.”

Prioritizing Africa

In a move toward vaccine equity, on June 3, 2021, the White House announced its plan to donate 80 million vaccine doses by the end of June 2021, most of which is promised to COVAX. While the donation is immensely helpful, of the first 19 million donated doses, Africa will receive the smallest portion of five million doses despite experiencing a 20% weekly surge in COVID-19 cases.

Vaccine diplomacy in Africa is important to ensure the continent does not go overlooked. As cases in Africa surge, the need for vaccine equity grows more urgent. If one continent goes unvaccinated, all continents are unprotected. With more countries in support of vaccine diplomacy, efforts to combat the pandemic will have greater success.

– McKenzie Howell
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Impoverished Populations in BrazilAs the impact of the COVID-19 on impoverished populations in Brazil continues, volunteers are providing support to community food pantries. Impromptu pantries are granting food to as many Brazilians as possible. Following the suspension of government emergency payments through the program Bolsa Familia, poverty in Brazil has quickly risen. The New York Times recently reported that Rio de Janeiro children have been begging for food at grocery stores while families huddle together in encampments. However, the pantries have alleviated some of the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic and suspended payments have brought on Brazil.

Bolsa Familia

In April 2020, President Jair Bolsonaro authorized emergency payments for millions of Brazilians. “It was a lifeline,” Jeronimo Rodriguez, a global economics student at Temple University, said in an interview with The Borgen Project. “It was very important for people, if they didn’t have this program, even more people would be [facing] problems.”

The government agreed to send 322 billion reais ($56 billion) to more than 60 million Brazilians registered with Bolsa Familia, the country’s pre-existing social welfare program. The government created Bolsa Familia in 2003 in an effort to reduce extreme poverty in Brazil. Monthly payment distribution was based on family composition and household income.

Emergency payment eligibility was originally based on Bolsa Familia eligibility, but the government expanded eligibility due to the pandemic. According to The Center for Public Engagement, this program helped more than 11 million families in Brazil.

However, in August 2020, budget cuts halved the monthly payments that helped reduce the impact of COVID-19 on impoverished populations in Brazil. Later, in December 2020, the government suspended payments. This put those previously living in poverty in Brazil at risk of crossing that line again. Aljazeera News reported that the second round of payments was to begin in April 2021.

The second round would have sent four monthly payments of 250 reais ($50) to families, but would not have covered as many people as the first round of payments. “There are millions of Brazilians, millions of people included in the first round of payments and now they have been kicked out,” said Rodriguez. 

Impact of COVID-19

President Jair Bolsonaro is still under scrutiny for his handling of the pandemic. Bolsonaro avoided lockdowns, kept businesses open and has been slow to secure vaccines. In addition, Brazil’s healthcare system proved to be unable to handle the pandemic. Brazil’s hospitals were lacking appropriate staffing, sufficient resources and privatized care. The lack of access to healthcare has strained those living in poverty in Brazil the most.

“They struggled a lot when we were in a ‘normal’ world, so the pandemic just made it clear that they’re living in horrible conditions up there,” Ygor Zanardo, an MBA student at West Chester University, said in an interview with The Borgen Project. Zanardo is from Brazil and is still in contact with friends and family there.

COVAX, an initiative to help equally distribute vaccines globally, donated its first round of vaccines to Brazil on March 2021. Expectations have determined that Brazil will receive more vaccine donations throughout the year. As of May 18, 2021, more than 17 million Brazilians have obtained vaccinations.

Political Crisis

According to Aljazeera News, the Brazilian Senate is currently investigating President Jair Bolsonaro for his handling of the pandemic. “The politicians there should focus on getting more vaccines and with a faster distribution of them while taking care of the individuals who are sick now with the right care that they deserve using public health,” said Zanardo.

Zanardo said the most effective way to offer assistance and alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on impoverished populations in Brazil would be to advocate for increased vaccines to the country. France and Sweden have recently donated vaccines to the COVAX Initiative. The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging other developing countries to participate.

– Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccines for SomaliaIn March 2021, COVAX helped secure the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines for Somalia. According to The New Humanitarian, Somalia has one of the weakest healthcare systems in the world. Before the pandemic, Somalia was already struggling with political and economic concerns. The added effects of COVID-19 have significantly impacted the country.

COVAX Donation and Vaccine Hesitancy

More than 300,000 COVID-19 vaccines first arrived in Somalia on March 15, 2021. Donated by COVAX, a global effort to provide equitable vaccine coverage, the doses will prioritize “frontline workers, the elderly and people with chronic health conditions.” UNICEF reports that Somalia is one of the first African countries to receive vaccine donations through COVAX, an important act as the country moves into a new wave of infections.

Misinformation has contributed to vaccine hesitancy in Somalia, which may adversely impact a successful vaccination rollout. Somali people working in the medical field are making efforts to combat misinformation and build vaccine trust to ensure vaccine hesitancy does not present a barrier for Somalia.

COVID-19 in Somalia

COVID-19 cases in Somalia stand at more than 13,000 as of April 30, 2021, with more than 700 deaths. COVID-19 deaths and infections in Somalia are low compared to other African countries and the rest of the world, but slow vaccination rates are making it harder to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. More than a year after the first reported case of COVID-19 in Somalia, Somalia is facing a peak, with a death toll far higher than the peak of 2020. Only about 0.8% of 15 million Somali’s have been vaccinated so far.

The first cases of COVID-19 in Somalia were mostly travel-related cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the past year, the WHO and partners have helped strengthen Somalia’s COVID-19 response by providing critical resources. These efforts contributed to creating three COVID-19 testing labs in Somalia. Furthermore, “73 rapid response teams were deployed for COVID-19 case investigation, alert verification and sample collection.” More than 7,000 healthcare workers received COVID-19 health training and 76 oxygen concentrators were provided to health facilities, among other efforts.

Vaccination Efforts for Preventable Diseases

Before the onset of COVID-19 in Somalia, WHO started the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), which aims to vaccinate Somali children against eight preventable diseases. This program helped control the 2017 and 2018 measles outbreaks in Somalia and helped citizens keep up with routine immunizations, mitigating the spread of common diseases across the country. In 2019, the initiative trained healthcare workers from more than 700 health centers in immunization practices and procedures.

Call to Action

As COVID-19 continues to threaten the world, vulnerable populations in developing countries are most at risk. Recognizing this fact, in June 2021, President Biden announced a plan to donate 500 million COVID-19 vaccines to countries in need through COVAX. The international community needs to come together in a collaborative global effort to ensure disadvantaged countries receive sufficient COVID-19 vaccines.

Monica Mellon
Photo: Flickr