Head of the UN office for disaster risk reduction Mami Mizutori tells Pradeep Thakur Covax is making progress towards having 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021, which should be enough to protect high-risk and vulnerable people. Excerpts from the interview:
The World Bank estimates 150 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty in 2021 due to Covid-19. How can India minimise the impact?
Firstly, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the people and government of India on the tragic loss of life that is taking place across the country.All major disasters which affect low- and middle-income countries result in economic losses on a scale which has a damaging effect on their ability to eradicate poverty and meet other basic needs, including health services and access to education. In the case of Covid-19, we have seen how it has pushed millions into extreme poverty globally, and has contributed to rising levels of hunger in many parts of the world where the informal economy that poor people depend on has been decimated. For all member states, the eradication of poverty cannot be achieved without reducing disaster risk and improved prevention as nothing undermines development like disasters.
The US and some other countries reserved enough shots for their citizens. Should India have done the same?
Much of the world looks to India for vaccine supply but the pharmaceutical supply chain is very complex and specialised to a degree that serving a population the size of India’s was always going to be a gargantuan task. The numbers already vaccinated in India are enormous but manufacturing enough doses to reach over one billion people will take time.
How much success has the UN’s Covax programme achieved?
The Covax facility portfolio, administered by Gavi, currently consists of agreements related to eight vaccines, including those developed with the Serum Institute of India. Coordinated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the WHO, Covax is making steady progress towards having 2 billion doses available by the end of 2021, which should be enough to protect high risk and vulnerable people, as well as frontline healthcare workers.
The second wave of Covid-19 has caused more deaths in India. Where did it go wrong?
Covid-19 demonstrates the systemic nature of disaster risk, how a biological hazard can ravage all areas of life starting from public health to all socio-economic aspects of our societies. Unfortunately, many countries, including India, are learning the hard way that prevention requires more patience than previously thought and, in the case of biological hazards, a longer game plan. WHO has warned that when there are mass gatherings, more contagious variants and the vaccination coverage is still low, this can create a perfect storm for the virus to spread in any country. India has done an admirable job in harnessing technology and communication to ensure effective early warning leads to early action in the case of cyclones. The challenge for the government now is to communicate effectively on the continued need for face masks, social distancing and avoiding mass gatherings while at the same time rolling out an effective vaccination programme.
Your idea of a ‘global response for future pandemics’ and vaccine distribution?
If the global level of preparedness for this pandemic had matched the warnings, much of the impact could have been reduced. An adequate level of pandemic preparedness would have cost billions instead of the trillions that it is now costing. The loss of life and the economic disruption could have been significantly reduced if we had been adequately prepared from the moment biological hazards were included in the Sendai Framework in 2015. Given the transboundary nature of biological hazards it is obvious that a global response plan is required for future pandemics. A patchwork response is not working for Covid-19, and it will not work against any newly emerging diseases and viruses in the future. It is not acceptable that developing countries should have to wait so long for Covid vaccines. This inequality and lack of solidarity to access affordable vaccines only fuels the spread of the virus, allows the emergence of new variants and prolongs the pandemic. None of us is safe until we are all safe.
With Covid disruptions, can countries like India meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals target?
It is clear that the death toll and economic loss from Covid-19 means that Sendai Framework targets on reducing mortality, numbers of disaster affected people and economic losses has suffered a great setback. However, we are still making significant progress on other targets. Asia and the Pacific are not on track to achieve any of the SDGs.