Inflammation and stories on vaccines

COVIS-19 vaccine distribution
Vaccines for the COVID-19 virus are emerging at an increasing rate around the world. The COVID-19 vaccine distribution is a primary challenge for political leaders. Ensuring that everyone has access to vaccines is imperative to achieving global recovery. In many countries, COVID-19 cases are still at large. National leaders put individual national laws in place to fight against the rising numbers. Though they have helped lower those rates, the number of cases has not yet begun to level out. The vaccines that nations have currently distributed should curb those numbers further. This will allow vaccinated individuals to resume their pre-pandemic daily routines slowly.

Inequal COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

Some countries have priority access to vaccines, which is largely due to national wealth. This leads to poorer nations not having the ability to purchase vaccines. To combat this for the betterment of global health, France, in particular, has begun to put forth ideas and efforts with the intent to help such nations gain access to vaccines.

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed that richer countries ought to transfer roughly 3-5% of their vaccines to countries in need. According to an interview with the Financial Times, he said, “This would have no impact on the rhythm of vaccine strategies (in rich countries). It won’t delay it by a single day given the way we use our doses.” According to Macron, German Chancellor Angela Markel has no problems with the initiative, and he hopes to convince the United States to share their vaccines as well.

African leaders have put forth the request for 13 million doses of vaccinations to help its population. The leaders plan to give a large portion of those to caretakers, allowing them to help patients in need. Currently, COVAX will be making accessible vaccinations available to African countries. However, the countries will use the vaccine only for emergencies. Thus, the calls for more vaccines are important.

France’s Plan for Vaccine Distribution

To help fight for better COVID-19 vaccine distribution in African countries, France has established a designated four-part plan to help affected communities efficiently. These steps include support of African healthcare systems, aiding African research and supporting humanitarian and economic efforts. The goal is for France to support various healthcare systems to ensure that patients and citizens receive the best treatment until a vaccine can be distributed. Until these countries have proper access to vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) will work with the financing they received from wealthier governments.

Many other countries worldwide are also working to help one another receive the help needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese scientists developed a vaccine that is currently in use in Hungary and Serbia. Beijing and Russia are selling and donating their own vaccines to nations abroad. If the number of cooperations increases in the upcoming months, there will be more vaccines available worldwide. Since the virus can still spread with mutations from other parts of the world, this is also crucial to rich nations’ national security.

– Seren Dere
Photo: Flickr

Way to Support Albania
Since the beginning of COVID-19, the unemployment rate in Albania increased from 12.33% to 12.81%. As thousands of Albanian people have entered poverty, UNICEF Albania and other humanitarian organizations are leading the way to support Albania during these trying times.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Albania started its COVID-19 response on March 9, 2020, by helping the Regional Local Democracy Programme (ReLOaD). The ReLOaD program helps update projects that deliver hygiene packages to vulnerable households. It also supports Albanian farmers with seeds and Albanian children with online learning materials. Support has reached 11 areas from Tirana to Lezhë, Albania. The UNDP even created an International Romani Day campaign where approximately 1,150 Albanian households received food and hygiene packages in April 2020.

UNICEF Albania

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Albania works to protect child rights with government and organization partners. Through programs supporting social and child protection, education and early childhood development, UNICEF Albania has three priorities: respecting child rights while implementing social inclusion through maintaining family access to the Albanian justice system, reforming the social care system and keeping children in school with NGO support.

In April 2020 and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF Albania supported a child protection organization statement about how thousands of children can receive protection from violence. This can occur through phone helplines, temporary shelters and professional workforces in Albania. In response to the call to action, child protection helplines underwent initiation in June 2020 through UNICEF and The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPIHA) support.

Educational Support in Albania

World Vision Albania and Kosovo Education and Youth Technical Advisor Brisida Jahaj told The Borgen Project that, “There was a huge challenge with families in poorer households.” This is because the families do not have the IT equipment or the internet for children to continue their education in Albania. The Ministry of Education in Albania found that 10,000 children lost educational resources over COVID-19.

Regarding education, UNICEF Albania has partnered and supported the online learning platform since 2019. Plans intend to implement it online and on television for all students by 2021. Funding from UNICEF and support from the Ministry of Education in Albania gave the opportunity to put approximately 1,100 lessons online for students taking Matura exams in Albania. Jahaj describes the platform as a “backup plan that if we go into the third level scenario,” wherein Albanian schools shut down in 2021.

In August 2020, UNICEF Albania worked to combat poverty due to COVID-19 by initiating its first Albanian cash transfer program to approximately 1,700 vulnerable families in Shkodër, Korçë and Durrës, Albania.

UNICEF Albania and the World Health Organization (WHO) also established an online training program to teach professionals about Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) and how to implement support to vulnerable populations during emergencies from May to July 2020. The eight module training course helps professionals master how to support mental health and psychosocial issues during emergencies. Approximately 230 frontline professionals obtained certification by September 2020.

Red Cross and World Vision

Albania experienced a series of earthquakes on November 26, 2019, which impacted approximately 200,000 Albanians. The Albania Red Cross responded to the earthquakes by sending 160 volunteers and providing 4,500 shelter relief packages to families who lost homes. The Albanian Red Cross received a 2020 Coca-Cola Company $100,000 grant in the wake of the pandemic to give community food aid and medical equipment to Albanian hospitals.

The Qatar Red Crescent Society partnered with the Albanian Red Cross to provide food package relief to 700 vulnerable families as a way to support Albania. Following the initial response, the Albanian Red Cross collaborated with Better Shelter. A total of 52 Better Shelters underwent construction in Durrës, Krujë, Laç, Shijak and Tirana, Albania, while home reconstruction continues through 2021.

World Vision Albania also helped with the earthquake response in Durrës, Lezhë, Kamëz and Kurbin, Albania by giving food and hygiene aid to 1,019 families and materials to help 27 families with home reconstruction. Jahaj told The Borgen Project that food and hygiene aid will continue in 2021 as World Vision and other humanitarian organizations including Save the Children and UNICEF provide “a lot of the masks and hand sanitizers for the schools” in Albania.

Where is Albania Now?

As of 2021, several humanitarian organizations are working to protect children and vulnerable individuals from the impact of the Albanian earthquakes and COVID-19 on the ground and online. Jahaj explained how World Vision Albania utilizes the Building Secure Livelihoods economic development program to help alleviate poverty while helping parents provide for their children from 2019 until 2023.

On all fronts, UNICEF, World Vision, Save the Children and the Albanian Red Cross responded to Albanian communities. By providing everything from medical care, earthquake shelter, child protection and online learning directly to families, these organizations have found a way to support Albania. As of January 2021, humanitarian organizations continue to work on home reconstruction, mental health support and flood response. Furthermore, Albania acquired 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines to distribute in 2021.

– Evan Winslow
Photo: Flickr

Jordan's Vaccine Rollout
As countries around the world continue their COVID-19 vaccine rollout, refugees have experienced exclusion from nearly half of them. One country that is vaccinating refugees is Jordan. With one of the largest refugee populations in the world, Jordan has set an important example for global vaccine accessibility. Here is some information about Jordan’s vaccine rollout.

Jordan’s Vaccine Rollout for Refugees

Jordan has begun its vaccine distribution plan, promising to provide vaccinations to anyone living in the country, including refugees, free of charge, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on January 14, 2020. Due to the country’s large refugee population, it needs vaccinations in order to achieve countrywide immunity to the virus. Jordan has received one million doses of the vaccine and two million through the COVAX Facility. The COVAX Facility is an initiative the World Health Organization (WHO) supports. The COVAX Facility implements mass vaccine production in low-income countries. Jordan has already begun vaccinating in clinics across the country.

So far, Jordan has vaccinated a reported 187 refugees. However, a spokesperson for the UNHCR expects that number to be higher. While the UNHCR is not supplying vaccines to countries, it is advocating for refugees to gain access to them.

“We have been advocating for the inclusion of refugees within the vaccination campaign since the pandemic was declared, so we are incredibly grateful they are now included,” said UNHCR spokesperson Kathryn Mahoney. “The main way we are supporting is through raising awareness of the vaccine among refugee populations and transporting refugees who live in camps to their nearest vaccination health clinics when they have appointments.”

COVID-19 Containment in Jordan

Jordan succeeded in preventing a massive spread of the virus in 2020 after imposing a strict lockdown when reports emerged of just a few cases in March 2020. Residents could only leave their homes between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and could only leave for necessary, socially distant activities like grocery shopping.

The strict lockdown worked as the number of COVID-19 cases in Jordan remained low. The country reported under 100 cases a day from March to September 2020. September marked a month-long surge of cases, peaking in November with almost 8,000 cases in one day. There were multiple lockdowns in October and November in order to slow the rapid spread, and cases started declining in January 2021.

Jordan’s vaccine rollout will continue the decline of COVID-19. This requires vaccinations to be available for everyone residing in the country.

Refugees in Jordan

Jordan has one of the largest refugee populations in the world, primarily from neighboring countries. As of May 2019, 755,050 refugees lived throughout the country. Nearly 665,000 of these refugees are from Syria, having fled the country’s civil war. While 84% of Jordanian refugees live in urban areas, 16% live in refugee camps. The two largest refugee camps are Za’atari and Azraq, hosting 80,000 and 40,000 people, respectively.

For the first six months of the pandemic, the camps reported no major outbreaks. The camps had required a 14-day quarantine in an isolation tent specifically for refugees returning from areas of Jordan with COVID-19 cases.

Once reports of cases in the Azraq camp started in September 2020, isolation tents began housing infected people in order to prevent further spread to the rest of the camp population. Cases have remained low with 573 reported cases. However, the close proximity of refugee housing still poses a risk of infection.

Refugee Vaccinations Worldwide

Almost 26 million refugees live around the world, half of whom are children. Out of the 90 countries currently committed to vaccine rollouts, only 51-57% have said they would include refugees. This leaves millions of people at risk.

Without mass vaccinations in vulnerable populations, there will be little defense against the virus, and worldwide protection against it will experience a delay. Jordan’s vaccine rollout sets an important example of refugees receiving access to vaccinations against COVID-19 and increases the vaccine’s availability in clinics across the country.

– June Noyes
Photo: Flickr

HPV Vaccines in Laos

Despite the changing direction of attention away from other illnesses and towards COVID since the beginning of 2020, Laos has made significant forward strides regarding HPV (human papillomavirus) and Laotian health. In March 2020, the program for HPV vaccines in Laos was founded as an active response to the high number of deaths due to cervical cancer. In Laos, at least 320 women are infected with HPV every year; 182 or around half of the sufferers die from the illness. The vaccines were first distributed in a high school in the Xaythany District in Vientiane Capital. Schools across the country administered the vaccinations shortly afterward to increase HPV prevention in 360,000 girls from the ages of 10 to 14.

Why Does This Matter?

The new vaccination program is significant considering that cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in Laos. It is also second-highest cancer to cause premature death or disability next to liver cancer. Furthermore, Laos is the eighth Southeast Asian country to have high rates of cervical cancer according to an age-standardized graph. More middle-aged women from the ages of 40 to 64 years old are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year: 197 a year compared to 62 older women and 61 younger women. Of the 197 middle-aged women who contract cervical cancer, 101 of those women die from the disease.

Logistics of the New Vaccines

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the government both contributed to the price of the HPV vaccines in Laos. UNICEF helped the Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Education and Sports to implement the vaccination of adolescent girls. The government vaccinates girls early on to battle HPV as a preventative measure as opposed to treating it at advanced stages later on in life. The vaccines work to prevent the infection of two strains of HPV, 16 and 18, which cause 70% of all cervical cancer cases due to HPV.

Vientiane Vaccinations

This is not the first time that there have been HPV vaccines in Laos. They were first introduced in 2013 as part of a demonstration of the vaccine’s effectiveness. The vaccines were confined within the Vientiane province until 2015 when the government completed the demonstration successfully. This most recent round of vaccinations was the first time the HPV vaccine was produced nationally.

Increasing Rate of HPV Vaccination

HPV vaccination in Southeast Asia is relatively new. Most countries are giving priority vaccination to illnesses like DTP (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) and measles. These illnesses are also the three garnering the most vaccinations worldwide. Because HPV is a newer vaccine for low and middle-income countries, there is still much to be done about the vaccination process. For example, low and middle-income countries still experience a dropout in between the first and final doses of HPV. This leaves many women at risk. Still, due to GAVI’s implementation and increasingly lower prices, countries like Laos can expect a decrease in cervical cancer fatalities.

HPV is a serious, cancer-causing infection afflicting countries all over the world. Fortunately, Laos is keeping up with other low and middle-income countries with their vaccination program. With the help of GAVI and UNICEF, Laos can increase vaccine availability and effectively combat one of the deadliest cancers in the country.

Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Flickr

The Netherlands' Foreign Aid
The Netherlands leads in refugee advocacy, COVID-19 relief and environmental protection and occupies a significant place on the world stage because of its commitment to foreign aid. The Netherlands is the world’s seventh-largest donor country, spending 0.59% of its gross national income, or $5.3 billion USD, on official development assistance (ODA) in 2019. The Dutch government plans to increase ODA by $2.7 billion between 2019 and 2022 to compensate for budget cuts the previous administration made and increased its development budget by $354 million in September 2020 in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Netherlands aims to assist unstable regions of West and North Africa and the Middle East through a focus on four major priorities: law and security, water management, food security and reproductive health. The Netherlands’ foreign aid is a key aspect of the country’s public policy and shapes its reputation for philanthropy worldwide.

Human Rights in the Netherlands

Human rights are a cornerstone of the Netherlands’ foreign aid. The country has a commitment to increasing protection for marginalized communities both at home and abroad. The Netherlands welcomed 94,430 refugees and asylum seekers in 2019 and over 100,000 each of the preceding three years. The government has also taken steps to support refugees, allocating $453 million, or 9% of the ODA budget, to refugee housing costs in 2021. Additionally, the Netherlands allocated additional funding to fight the root causes of poverty, migration, terrorism and environmental challenges in Africa and the Middle East. The Netherlands hopes to address the root causes of these problems in their countries of origin to reduce the number of refugees and improve the quality of life for the global poor.

The Netherlands leads the world in advocacy for gender equality and sexual health through funding for international organizations such as the United Nations Population Fund, UNAIDS and the Global Financing Facility. These organizations work to prevent infant and maternal mortality, end HIV/AIDS and end child marriage and female genital mutilation in developing countries. For example, the Global Financing Facility provides high-quality affordable health care to women and children focused on ending infant and maternal mortality and providing necessary health services to children and teenagers. Since its founding in 2015, GFF has made significant strides in advancing health care in its partner countries. Tanzania improved from an average of 35.8% of pregnant women receiving antenatal care visits in 2014 to 64.1% in 2018.

COVID-19 Relief in the Netherlands

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Netherlands’ foreign aid is important in protecting global health in vulnerable regions. The Netherlands has taken the initiative to allocate pandemic relief aid to the world’s poorest countries, joining other E.U. states to contribute $459 million USD to COVAX, which helps ensure universal access to the COVID-19 vaccine. COVAX aims to distribute two billion COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries by the end of 2021, ensuring global protection against the virus. The country also donated $590 million to global COVID-19 relief efforts in 2020 and plans to contribute a further $548 million from its budget for the upcoming years.

In January 2021, the Netherlands announced it would donate a further €25 million to COVID-19 relief following an appeal by the World Health Organization (WHO). Together, the WHO and its global partners will earmark $5 billion to ensure the distribution of 1.3 billion vaccines in countries with limited or insufficient funds. Development minister Sigrid Kaag emphasized the responsibility of the Netherlands to help more vulnerable countries by providing vaccines, diagnostic tests and medicine, which will also help to protect Dutch interests. The €25 million will come from the development cooperation budget and will cover five million vaccine doses.

The Netherlands uses its global platform to advocate for marginalized communities, particularly at-risk populations in North and West Africa and the Middle East. Foreign aid is a cornerstone of Dutch foreign policy that has grown the wealthy country’s reputation for philanthropy. By welcoming refugees, advocating for human rights and funding global efforts to combat COVID-19, the Netherlands affirms its commitment to foreign aid and funds solutions for some of the most pressing global problems.

– Eliza Browning
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Dangers of non-vaccination
Polio survivor, Richard Elaka, 60, has made it his mission for the last 20 years to educate his community in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on the benefits of vaccinating. At 7 years old, Mr. Elaka suddenly lost the use of his legs. His family initially believed this was the result of a curse that his uncle put on him. It was not until later that Richard understood that the poliomyelitis virus had infected him due to him not having received the polio vaccine. Unable to walk without the use of crutches from the age of 7, Mr. Elaka has not taken his survival for granted. He spends his free time doing community outreach. He roams the streets attempting to teach his neighbors about the dangers of non-vaccination.

The Under-Vaccination Problem in the DRC

Only 35% of children in the DRC, between the ages of 12-23 months, have complete vaccination records by the time they turn 1 year old. The COVID-19 pandemic has perpetuated this issue; the DRC has steadily watched vaccination numbers decline since the start of the pandemic. The primary reasons for the declining numbers are:

  1. Vaccinators lacking the personal protective equipment required for dispensing injections.
  2. Parental concerns of exposure to COVID-19 when traveling to vaccination facilities.
  3. Insufficient funds to buy the vaccines.
  4. Conflict and insecurity.

Number three on this list is one of the biggest barriers the DRC has faced.

The Plan

The DRC’s government is working to remedy the issue of under vaccination. The dangers of non-vaccination, particularly within the population of a developing country like the DRC, are a very real and present danger. In June 2020, the DRC  doubled the immunization funding budget it had in 2019. In fact, about $16.4 million went towards the purchase of vaccines.

Along with the financing that UNICEF contributed, the money that the DRC government provided has made it possible for the Emergency Plan for Revitalization of Routine Immunizations’ work in the DRC to continue. Some formally know the Emergency Plan for Revitalization of Routine Immunizations as The Mashako Plan, named for the late DRC Minister of Health Professor, Leonard Mashako Mamba. Its creation in 2018 was a direct response to the issue of incomplete immunizations. Initiated with the hope of targeting several under-vaccinated areas of the DRC, the Mashako plan implemented five key components in creating a sustainable immunization practice:

  1. Dispensing Immunizations – The 2018 goal was to increase the number of completed vaccination sessions by 20%.
  2. Stockout Reduction – Reduce incidents of local health care centers experiencing stockout by 80%.
  3. Observation and Assessment – Closely monitoring data results of vital factors.
  4. Supervision – Routine inspections of immunization storehouse and vaccine dispensing facilities.
  5. Funding and Strategy – Monthly meetings to discuss finance and implementation.

The Good News

From its inception to 2019, the Mashako Plan has contributed to a 50% increase in completed vaccination sessions. The impact COVID-19 is having on the DRC and its mission to vaccinate has been challenging. In 2020, the DRC contended not only with COVID but with Ebola and measles outbreaks as well. Despite these arduous circumstances, volunteer vaccinators, DRC public health officials and community members, like Richard Elaka, remain undeterred in the commitment to protecting the citizens of the DRC from the dangers of non-vaccination.

– Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Equitable COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution
Though vaccine development and vaccine distribution have made incredible strides in the past few decades, developing countries are still consistently behind as wealthier countries monopolize available vaccine resources. The most recent example of this monopolization is the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 that killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. This problematic new strain emerged in April 2020, and the U.S. began distributing vaccines in October of that same year. Vaccines did not become available to countries in Africa until later that year, which is significant due to the fact that this influenza virus already hit peak infectivity before vaccines became available to developing nations. It is essential to consider how to ensure equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Analyzing the H1N1 pandemic provides scientists and citizens alike valuable insight into possible future complications that may arise with vaccine distribution in response to the far more deadly COVID-19 virus. The solution to providing more equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution for developing countries may lie in the innovative COVAX Pillar of the World Health Organization’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator.

What is COVAX?

The principal focus of COVAX is vaccine development and distribution, with the other two pillars focused more on the organization between governments, health organizations, vaccine manufacturers and other industries related to COVID-19 research. COVAX allows for countries to support and negotiate with vaccine developers, which provides necessary vaccines should these developers produce successful vaccines. The support of COVAX provides both wealthy and poor nations reassurance that as new vaccines become available, they will go to participating nations. As more vaccines develop and successfully pass through clinical trials, countries that participate in the COVAX alliance receive first priority to these vaccines. Wealthy nations that contribute money obtain more doses to reach a majority of their populations, whereas developing countries that do not directly fund this program receive vaccines for the most at-risk groups.

Wealthier countries have the ability to decide how much they would like to contribute towards developing countries. Providing funding for developing nations is an investment that will decrease global COVID-19 prevalence and therefore increase safety for each respective nation. Vaccines for developing countries also receive partial funding from the Gavi COVAX AMC, which has already raised over $2 billion, reaching the goal for the end of 2020. Even more promising is that in December 2020, the U.S. allocated $4 billion for this program in its COVID-19 relief package, bringing the total already much closer to the necessary $5 billion by the end of 2021.

As with the two current vaccines available in the United States, the first priority group for distribution in the COVAX program is frontline healthcare workers. This program plans to vaccinate at least 3% of each participating nation’s population. As availability continues to grow and new vaccines become available, distribution will increase to 20% of each population.

Reasons for Optimism

To ensure equitable distribution of vaccines when they do become available, the World Health Organization (WHO), GAVI and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations are developing an Independent Allocation of Vaccines Group (IAVG) comprised of experts to make these crucial decisions. These experts have the task of deciding the volume of vaccines that will go to each participating nation to provide valuable insight and decision-making without any conflict of interest. This cooperative effort is vital to the concept of equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution and will allow for the meeting of distribution goals.

In the latest news briefing on January 22, 2021, the COVAX alliance announced an agreement for the distribution of 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use. This 40 million adds to the 150 million of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccines that will undergo utilization upon completion of clinical trials. With the impressive goal to distribute two billion total vaccines by the end of 2021, this collaborative effort continues to promise 1.3 billion of those doses to the 92 lower-income economies participating in the alliance.

In summary, the COVAX pillar through the Gavi Alliance benefits both wealthy countries and developing countries. Wealthy countries obtain access to developing vaccines to provide a sense of security for their populations as these vaccines become available. In the case of developing countries, they save money on funding these vaccine developments and receive a guarantee they will obtain enough vaccines for the most at-risk groups at no charge or minimal charge. An alliance of this magnitude provides enough structure and funding to successfully promote equitable distribution that benefits all participating nations.

– Jackson Thennis
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in the Philippines
In 2020, the Department of Social Welfare and Development held a lecture on immunization and free pneumonia immunization. This is significant in a country with 18.2% of its citizens experiencing elderly poverty in the Philippines and unable to meet food needs. According to a study by the Tsao Foundation, more availability to community resources like vaccination drives could lead to a higher quality of life among the Filipino elderly.

The Lecture on Immunization and Free Pneumonia Immunization

In 2018, 16.6% of the Philippine population lived under the national poverty line, affirming the need for aid for elderly poverty in the Philippines. The lecture occurred in February 2020, some months before the World Bank predicted that elderly poverty in the Philippines would increase during the COVID-19 pandemic in August 2020. Furthermore, in December 2020, an economist from the World Bank predicted that 2.7 million more people would become poor as a result of job losses and slower cash remittances due to the pandemic, or about 2% of the Philippines population.

The event makes vaccine information readily available to elderly citizens as Calabarzon, the location of the vaccine drive, is the number one region in the Philippines to have elderly residents, boasting over 1 million aged people, or 13.3% of the total population. One thousand senior citizens attended from 16 municipalities and seven cities of Cavite province in Calabarzon. This event is proactive and timely in light of the 57,809 lives lost in 2016 to pneumonia, almost 10% of total deaths according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

A 2016 initiative, the Expanded Pneumococcal Immunization Program for Senior Citizens, supports the event. It makes free pneumococcal vaccines available, mobilizes to reduce pneumonia among the elderly and encourages the public to obtain vaccinations. In particular, the program aims to protect Filipinos from the ages of 60-65.

Cavite Gov. Jonvic Joins Battle Against Vaccine Hesitancy

Although pneumonia is a vaccine-preventable disease, many Filipinos are still reluctant to receive vaccinations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019 was the refusal to vaccinate. Despite the availability of vaccines, hospitals did not vaccinate Filipinos due to hesitancy and the belief that vaccines are harmful. Elderly Filipinos are at particularly high risk because of compromised immune systems that cannot fend off the virus as easily.

The 2020 lecture, with the governor of Cavite Juanito Victor “Jonvic” Remulla in attendance and the Department of Health assisting in its management, not only informed Filipino senior citizens of the life-saving benefits of exercising and eating healthy together with being vaccinated but also coordinated a ceremony in full with free vaccinations. The event made use of the catchphrase “Bakuna Muna: Dahil ang Bakunado, Protektado:” Vaccine First: Because of the Vaccine, (We Are) Protected.

The Philippines is Among the Slowest Aging Asian Countries

Most East Asian and Pacific countries are rapidly aging. In fact, more than 15% of the population in those countries is a senior citizen. The Philippines is among one of the two East Asian countries slowest to age. While estimates have determined that Vietnam will need 15 years for the older population to outpace younger citizens, the Philippines will require 30 years for the number of senior citizens to catch up.

Compared to Western countries, which will take 20 years for the number of aged citizens to increase 5.4% by 2030, predictions have determined that the most upcoming spike in the number of aged people in 15 years will be less than 4%. This is a rate of 0.0026 of the country’s citizens per year in the Philippines, less even than the United States’ 0.0027 per year.

With health care costs totaling up to $20 trillion total, the Philippines likely has more time to settle its finances and organize elderly support policies than most countries. More than in other Asian countries, elderly poverty in the Philippines has a window and leeway for more developed countries to provide aid.

Other Policies Aiding Elderly Poverty

Policies currently in place supporting elderly poverty in the Philippines include the Health and Wellness Plan for Senior Citizens (HWPSC), the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2003 and the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010. The HWPSC has the responsibility of reaching out to both national and local governments to provide logistical help and to assist program implementation. It also promises elderly citizens the care and attention they need to help them flourish and receive treatment.

The 2010 Expanded Senior Citizens (Republic Act 9994) Act is an amendment to a former health policy that aims to provide discounted pharmaceuticals and vaccines to senior citizens who cannot afford medical treatments. The Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2002 (Republic Act 9257), like the Expanded Senior Citizens Act, is an amendment to the same policy guaranteeing additional benefits such as a 20% discount on medical and dental services.

The Philippines is soon to have a 2 million increase in people suffering from poverty. Organizations like the Department of Social Welfare and Development and initiatives like the Health and Wellness Plan for Senior Citizens support these people by providing health aid to combat elderly poverty in the Philippines. Though the pandemic’s impact persists, the government is mobilizing services to improve conditions for the Philippines’ older people.

– Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Pexels

COVID-19 in Iran
On December 5, 2020, Iran announced that the national death toll from COVID-19 had surpassed 50,000 people. However, medical experts from within and outside Iran have estimated that the number of Iranians who have died of COVID-19 is at least double that figure. Additionally, they estimate that the nation may be on the brink of collapse from the uncontrolled spread of the virus. A mix of social, political and economic factors have created a unique situation that has made the containment and treatment of COVID-19 in Iran nearly impossible. Medical experts have warned that a third wave would be a destabilizing threat to the nation. Remedying this crisis will require international support and effort at Iran’s federal level to alleviate the burden on frontline workers, increase access to healthcare resources and create a path for Iran to receive an effective vaccine.

A Fertile Ground for an Uncontrolled Spread

An economic depression, onset by U.S. sanctions and government mismanagement, has plagued Iran in recent years. The U.S. has posed various economic sanctions on Iran since 1979, after the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. As a result, the average purchasing power of Iranian families has decreased, drug and consumer product prices have soared and housing has become unaffordable for many Iranian families.

Economic sanctions do not explicitly ban the sale of pharmaceuticals to Iran. However, the Human Rights Watch reports that many European and American companies, fearing sanctions, are unwilling to sell drugs or pharmaceutical equipment to Iran. This, coupled with the skyrocketing prices of pharmaceuticals in Iranian pharmacies, places the Iranian public at a major health risk. Even before the spread of COVID-19 in Iran, many Iranian families could not afford basic drugs and waited for hours in line at local pharmacies.

The Iranian government made a number of missteps in the early days of the pandemic. These included reluctance to lock down public places when large swaths of the community were contracting the virus, as well as allowing international flights from China to enter Iran as late as January 26, 2020.

Struggling Healthcare Infrastructure

Getting exact figures of infections and deaths from COVID-19 in Iran is not easy due to the country’s opaque governmental structure. Experts estimate that Iran, along with the United States and India, may be among the countries that COVID-19 has hit hardest. This has put immense pressure on Iran’s already struggling healthcare infrastructure, which, according to Iranian health professionals, is reaching a breaking point during a third wave of the virus.

Almost every hospital in Iran now hosts a COVID-19 ward, and nearly every ward is at full capacity. Some hospitals have had to convert cafeterias into makeshift field hospitals to handle the incredible volume of infected patients. With the lack of necessary healthcare resources and staff to handle an ever-increasing number of infected people, several hospitals are unable to effectively administer care to patients, including those hospitalized for reasons other than COVID-19 infection, and are on the verge of collapse.

The Fight for a Vaccine and Maintaining Daily Life

The light at the end of the tunnel for any nation suffering a COVID-19 pandemic is a contract to receive mass quantities of an approved vaccine. Despite economic sanctions, Iran has entered into COVAX, an international organization that aims to allow foreign countries access to coronavirus vaccines. Due to international banks’ reluctance to grant loans to Iran, fearing sanctions from the U.S. government, Iranian officials may have to fly to Geneva to pay directly for an import of the vaccine. Still, Iran obtained a license to take part in COVAX, meaning that planning is underway to get vaccines to Iran.

The Iranian government has stepped up COVID-19 protocol in recent weeks, extending shutdowns that it put in place before the most recent wave. The government hopes that social distancing and stricter protocol will mitigate the spread of the virus. As of December 5, 2020, the Iranian government has put in place:

  • An extension of partial shutdowns in regions that the spread of the virus most affected.
  • A curfew in 278 cities that are not experiencing uncontrolled spread, but are still at risk of mass infection.
  • A mandatory mask rule in all public places.
  • A ban on people with COVID-19 from taking public transportation.

Taking on the New Wave

As a third wave has descended on Iran, the nation faces a set of difficulties that it has not seen since the Persian Famine during World War I. A combination of sanctions, fear of backlash from the international business community and federal reluctance to make strides in containing COVID-19 in Iran have created a unique crisis that threatens that nation’s health and security.

As hospitals face crowding and the price of available pharmaceuticals remains on the rise, Iran is likely to continue to struggle. Stricter and more thorough social distancing protocol, as well as strategic negotiations to obtain a vaccine, could combat the spread of COVID-19 in Iran and put the country on the path to recovery.

Kieran Graulich
Photo: Flickr

The World BankThe World Bank Group has announced a $12 billion initiative that would allow COVID-19 vaccines, testing and treatments to be readily available for low-income countries. This plan will positively affect up to a billion people and signals the World Bank’s initiative to ensure that developing countries are equipped to distribute vaccines and testing to citizens. The plan is a part of the overall $160 billion package by the World Bank Group, which aims to support developing countries in the fight against the pandemic.

A Multitude of Goals

Since early March and April, the World Bank Group has provided grants to low-income countries to help with the distribution of health care equipment. Recognizing that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the poor and has the potential to push up to 115 million into poverty, the World Bank Group has been active in financing an early, timely response to the COVID-19 pandemic in low-income areas. As of November 2020, the World Bank Group has consequently assisted over 100 developing countries in the allocation of medical supplies and technologies.

With the spread worsening all across the globe, the next step is to administer vaccinations. This new initiative hopes to strengthen health care operatives while also providing economic opportunities within those communities. Other expectations are increasing awareness of public health, training health care workers and focusing on community engagement. As a result, the four primary goals of the World Bank Group’s Crisis Response are to save lives that are endangered by the COVID-19 virus, protect the poor and vulnerable, retain economic stability and facilitate a resilient recovery to the pandemic.

Moreover, the World Bank Group has extensive experience with dispersing vaccines, specifically with combating infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. Through these experiences, the World Bank Group understands the importance of quick, tailored distribution based on individual country needs. As a result, countries will have flexibility in how they want to receive and administer vaccines — for example, through the improvement of health care infrastructure, procurement with the support from varying, multilateral mechanisms or reshaping policy and regulatory frameworks.

Partnerships and Funding

Funding for this project will consist of “$2.7 billion new financing from IBRD; $1.3 billion from IDA, complemented by reprioritization of $2 billion of the Bank’s existing portfolio; and $6 billion from IFC, including $2 billion from existing trade facilities.”

The IDA will provide grants to low-income countries while the IBRD will be supplying them to middle-income countries. The World Bank’s private sector arm, the IFC, will be the main donor for continued economic stability within its clientele. The IFC’s support will specifically aid in the continuation of operating and sustaining jobs. The total funding will cover a broad scope to strengthen the health care sector. These solutions hope to reduce the harmful economic and social impacts of COVID-19.

World Bank Group president, David Malpass, has been working extensively with these institutions on this project. Malpass pointed out that the need for economic backing is drastically important when it comes to receiving this vaccine. Manufacturers might not deem these low-income communities as important as those in more advanced economies. Hence, it’s extremely important to provide this funding to ensure global equity and distribution.

Moving Forward

Many countries have been able to discover viable vaccine treatments. It’s important that future doses be distributed globally and equitably, as more and more people are being pushed into extreme poverty. Malpass wrote, “The pandemic is hitting developing countries hard, and the inequality of that impact is clear … The negative impact on health and education may last decades — 80 million children are missing out on essential vaccinations and over a billion are out of school.”

As the number of global cases increases each day, it is becoming even more important to provide relief to all countries. Low-income countries and communities are at the most vulnerable. This is why the World Bank Group has made it transparent that their main mission is to provide extended relief to these countries during the pandemic.

Natalie Whitmeyer
Photo: Flickr