SOAS University of London

Special Advisor to the Director General of the WHO calls for empathy and solidarity in advocating for global vaccine equity at SOAS event

11 March 2021

Dr Peter Singer, Special Advisor to the Director General of the World Health Organization, discussed the need for global vaccine equity and how we can address it at an event on Tuesday 9 March hosted by SOAS University of London in partnership with the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA) on vaccination inequality.

He expressed that ethics, national security and economy are the key reasons to pursue global vaccine equity and the only way to achieve this is via “dollars, doses, domestic production including know-how transfer.”

Speaking alongside the Director General and CEO of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) Dr Segenet Kelemu and the Chief Economics Commentator of the Financial Times (FT) Martin Wolf CBE, Dr Singer called for the need for empathy and solidarity in advocating for global vaccine equity stating: “if you don’t have a feeling of empathy for your brothers and sisters then you don’t care about solidarity. If you don’t care about solidarity then you don’t care about equity.”

SOAS Director Professor Adam Habib chaired the panel and opened the discussion commenting on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic globally: “if we are going to address the global challenges of our time, we have to co-hear as a global community and we are never going to do so until we figure out a way for us to treat each other as a collective humanity, where each one of our futures is assured.” This set the precedent for the discussion with each member of the panel providing their expertise on the issue of global vaccination inequality. 

Dr Segenet Kelemu of icipe discussed the issue from the African perspective commenting that although there were a lot of predictions saying that Africa will collapse, "African countries acted very quickly," learning from lessons experiencing previous epidemics like Ebola and tuberculosis.

Dr Kelemu criticised the vaccination strategies of certain countries "ordering vaccines at five, six times their needs" stating that "this may be good politics, good nationalism, but it’s not good science." Dr Kelemu proposed that "the best way to reduce the transmission of the virus and its variants is to quickly manage and vaccinate as many people as possible globally."

Martin Wolf CBE of FT focused on the economic factors linked with vaccine supply and the challenge of inadequate global capacity to produce key materials when the pandemic first hit. He discussed the production and distribution of vaccines and called for an increase in production stating that, "new factories have to be made, that allow the production of vaccines on a massive scale."

This event was hosted by SOAS University of London, in partnership with the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA). It is the first event of the SOAS Director's Lecture Series.

Watch the discussion back now.

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Addressing vaccination inequality in an interconnected world (SOAS Director's Lecture Series)

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