Don’t blame SARS-CoV-2 for the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed millions of people around the globe. Blame politics and politicians who have not learned the lessons of past pandemics. And blame healthcare providers who have been slow to challenge the status quo that has allowed most of the world to go without adequate testing, therapeutics, and vaccines.
That was the message from Ayoade Alakija, MD, who delivered the keynote presentation during the Opening Session of the Global Summit on Wednesday, Nov. 3. All of the Global Summit programming is available on demand for registered meeting participants through March 11, 2022.
“This pandemic caused by a virus is not a health crisis, it is a global geopolitical crisis, a socioeconomic crisis, a gender crisis,” said Dr. Alakija, Co-Chair of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance and founder of Nigeria’s Emergency Coordination Centre. “The virus has just laid bare what was already there — a magnifying glass showing that what we thought were cracks in our model of global solidarity in healthcare to be huge fissures.”
The numbers are tragic. In Africa, to use one example, about one person in 20 has been tested for COVID-19, Dr. Alakija said. In the U.S., by contrast, there have been approximately two tests per person and 40 times more tests administered than across all of Africa. And there have been more COVID-19 booster shots administered in the U.S., the European Union, and Israel than initial vaccine doses administered in all 18 African nations combined.
Dr. Alakija made an impassioned plea for health equity across global boundaries during her keynote lecture.
“In the Global South, Asia, Africa, India, Latin America, and elsewhere, people are very literally dying for lack of breath, dying because there is no oxygen to give them,” she said. “While in the Global North, the U.S., Europe, and a few other countries, people are getting monoclonal antibody treatments in clinic. That is the very definition of health inequity and health injustice.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century pandemic that requires once-in-a-century responses, Dr. Alakija said.
“It is a crying shame that we are repeating the mistakes of the past,” she said. “By the time this is done, we may have seen more deaths than we saw from the Spanish flu a century ago. Yet we, the health community, remain on this side while politicians, the people who decide who will live and who will die, remain on that side. We need to bridge that gap and we are not doing a very good job of it. We need to get involved in the civic space, get involved in geopolitics, because what is happening at the political level is affecting science and vice versa.”
To further illustrate her point, Dr. Alakija called attention to the unequal distribution of vaccine deliveries around the world. As of late October 2021, the EU had received 54% of COVID-19 vaccines ordered and seen a 60% increase in excess deaths, she said. By contrast, the African Union had received 5% of vaccines ordered and seen an 800% increase in excess deaths.
“HIV/AIDS 20 years ago should have taught us the lesson, but clearly it did not,” she said. “It is not us versus them, it is only us. Only together are we going to be able to bridge those divides to advance health equity. But first we must end the acute phase of this pandemic. We have to get the world what the world needs now in diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines.”