UNGA address: PM demands ‘universal, affordable’ vaccine access to all

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday demanded appropriate global action for “universal and affordable” vaccine access to all for COVID-free world in her 76th UN General Assembly (UNGA) address warning that the current “vaccine-divides” trend would only linger the pandemic.

“For a COVID-free world, we must ensure universal and affordable access to vaccines for people across the world,” she told in her UNGA address in Bangla as previous years, following Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s footprint.

The premier also expressed her grave concern over growing trend of “vaccine divides” pointing out World Bank reports suggesting high and upper middle-income countries received so far 84 percent of vaccines against less than one percent by low-income countries.

“This vaccine inequality must be urgently addressed … we cannot chart out a sustainable recovery and be safe by leaving millions behind,” she said, demanding a UN declaration calling COVID-19 vaccines as a “global public goods” in the weeklong UNGA general debate that began on September 21.

She said the last 75th UNGA remained largely unheeded although many countries echoed the same but “we must demonstrate our ability to work and act together on global common issues and create space for new partnerships and solutions”.

“And that must start right here at the UN; with the member states; across regions; rising above narrow political interests. . . it has also put a spotlight on the critical need for global solidarity and collaboration to effective COVID-19 response,” the premier said.

Sheikh Hasina said vaccine technologies must be transferred immediately across the globe to ensure vaccine equity, saying, “Bangladesh is ready to produce vaccines in mass scale if technical know-how is shared with us and patent waiver is granted”.

She placed several proposals to contain the global pandemic, saying only a meaningful collaboration towards a resilient and inclusive recovery could combat the pandemic though it so far brought to the fore the inadequacy of the global response to tackle emergencies.

Bangladesh’s permanent representative to the United Nations Rabab Fatima chaired the session coinciding with the prime minister’s address in the UNGA where 100 heads of government and state were speaking in person.

Climate change, Rohingya crisis, Palestine and Afghanistan issues concerning the global as well as Bangladesh perspectives were featured in Sheikh Hasina’s speech.

She said alongside Bangladesh calls for vaccine equality, “Our firm position against any form of injustice as against the Palestinian people, resolution of the Rohingya crisis, and promoting climate justice – (which) are a few examples of our global commitment”.

On the Afghan crisis, she said Bangladesh wants Afghanistan’s people to decide the course of the future themselves while Bangladesh is ready to continue to work with international community for the country’s economic development.

The prime minister said “Hope” being the theme of the 76th UNGA when COVID-19 was claiming lives across the globe and battering the economies and health system across the world by recurring waves of new variants.

She pointed out that the pandemic disproportionately impacted the climate vulnerable countries that need to be addressed with immediate measures and “otherwise, devastating impacts of climate change will be irreversible”.

“No country, rich or poor, is immune from the destructive effects. We, therefore, call upon the rich and industrialized countries to cut emissions, compensate for the loss and damage, and ensure adequate financing and technology transfer for adaptation and resilience building,” she said.

Sheikh Hasina, also the Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum and the Vulnerable Twenty Group of Ministers of Finance, said her government has launched the “Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan – Decade 2030” outlining a transformative agenda from climate vulnerability to climate prosperity.

She went on saying that the upcoming COP-26 Summit in Glasgow provides us with a good opportunity to rally support for such new and inclusive ideas, adding, “Let us not miss out on this opportunity.”

Outlining the COVID challenges like other parts of the globe, Sheikh Hasina said the pandemic also severely disrupted Bangladesh’s education system while UNICEF reported that half the world’s students were affected by partial or full school closures.

She said success stories in education progress across the globe largely ran dry as millions of students in low-income countries lacked resources and technologies to join remote learning facilities “jeopardizing decades of gains in enrollment, literacy rates, etc”.

“We need a global plan to prioritize education recovery by investing in digital tools and services, access to internet, and capacity building of teachers. We also call the UN system to rally partnership and resources to make that happen,” she said.

Sheikh Hasina, however, said Bangladesh largely managed to be on track for its graduation from the Least Development Countries (LDC) category “despite the unprecedented challenges by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

But, she said, the pandemic still risked the graduation prospect and aspiration of many countries and so “we look forward to receiving more support from our development partners for an incentive-based graduation structure”.

As one of the co-chairs of the Preparatory Committee of the LDC 5 Conference, the premier sought “concrete outcome” of Doha conference enabling more countries to sustainably graduate out of the LDC category.

Sheikh Hasina described migrants’ workers as frontline contributors during the pandemic in health and other emergency services and urged the migrant receiving countries to treat them fairly and protect their jobs, health, and well-being.

She said the pandemic hit hard many migrant workers throwing them out of jobs and exposing them to salary cuts, lack of access to health and other social services and forcible return. -BSS