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Episode #32 - Equity in vaccines, treatment and tests 

1 April 2021 | Science conversation

Summary

In our unequal world, how does inequity impact our fight against COVID-19? How can we address it? WHO’s Dr Mariângela Simao explains in Science in 5 this week.

Podcast

Transcript

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Hello and welcome to Science in 5, I'm Vismita Gupta-Smith. Today, we are talking to WHO's Dr. Mariângela Simão and we are talking about inequities and how that's impacting our battle against the pandemic. Welcome, Mariângela.

Dr. Mariângela Simão

Hello, Vismita.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Mariângela, my first question to you is this lack of access to medicines, treatments to vaccines around the world, how is that impacting our fight against COVID-19?

Dr. Mariângela Simão

I think this is a very good question because we are talking about something that's very actionable, which is equity in health care. Right? This is an old discussion and this pandemic just made what was bad, worse. And we are seeing huge inequities in access to health care in many, many countries, within countries and across the world. And we are seeing the problems that were chronic in some countries, like the oxygen provision to patients with pneumonia, for example, have become much more acute right now because of the issues with the number of cases increasing so much. We also see that we know more than we knew one year ago on clinical care. And we see that medications that are not under patent or anything that are actually quite cheap may not be available in some countries. And they make a difference when you have a severe case of COVID-19. So there's a lot that can be done because we always say that equity in health care, it's above all, it's not only preventable, but it's also actionable.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Mariângela, I wanted to ask you if a country can afford to vaccinate their entire population, why should they not do that? What exactly is WHO's and agencies like WHO, what are we asking these countries to do exactly?

Dr. Mariângela Simão

It's not about getting to the moral high ground, but it's something that should touch every human heart because this year we have supply problems, 2021. We don't have enough vaccines to vaccinate everyone in the world. And what WHO and other partners, international partners are advocating and pushing very hard is that to end this acute phase of this pandemic, we need to have access to vaccines in all countries reaching health care workers because without health care workers, you don't have health care. And this is extremely important. And also to prevent people from dying. We know now, you know, we've known for some time that some people are at higher risk of dying if they acquire this new coronavirus. And we are talking about people over 65 and also people who have co-morbidities, which means have associated diseases. So it's really, really important that countries think about this and individuals think about this as well. What is the best situation for the world? The best situation for the world right now is to prevent deaths among people who are at higher risk of dying and to protect health systems so that all countries can deal with this pandemic. Another issue that's very important to raise when we are talking about equitable access to vaccines, we are not only talking about solidarity. Solidarity is good, but we are also talking about countries' self-interest, because the more community transmission we have around the world, the more are the chances of the emergent variants that could one day create a problem to have effective vaccines. So it's extremely important at this stage that we ensure that all countries across the world have access to the vaccines that are safe and effective and that are in the market right now.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Mariângela , speak to us about how countries can prepare to accept the vaccines and other support that WHO and partners are getting ready to make available to them. 

Dr. Mariângela Simão

One issue that's very much important at this stage with the COVAX Facility, which is the WHO's sponsored mechanism, together with partners like GAVI, is the country's preparedness to receive these vaccines because many countries in the world have no experience in vaccinating adults. In children it's more on the routine, countries know how to do that, but how to bring adults to the health care and how to reach out to adults and also how to guarantee because, you know, we are talking mostly about two-dose vaccines, that they will come back to received their second dose. So, there's a lot of preparation and many countries are responding very proactively to this, preparing the health care system, preparing the health care workers, training health care workers and also communicating to the populations that will need to have access first for them to come to get their vaccines in time.

Vismita Gupta-Smith

Thank you, Mariângela. That was Dr. Mariângela Simão explaining the moral imperative that our world's inequities place before us and how we can address it together to fight COVID-19. Until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.
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