To judge from some press releases, the vaccine needs of the world’s poor are being met by COVAX, Gavi and Cepi, but behind swish websites who are they?
The World Health Organisation’s COVAX program “working for global equitable access” trumpets “With a fast-moving pandemic, no one is safe, unless everyone is safe”.
However it is perhaps telling that the WEF last September described it thus:
- COVAX aims to ensure all countries have access to a safe, effective vaccine.
- Richer countries gain access to a portfolio of potential vaccines, avoiding the risk of
backing any one candidate.
- Lower income countries get financial support and equal access to a vaccine once
available. (My italics!)
Hmmmm….. Charity, not equality!
CEPI describes itself as another “…global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organisations”. It was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos four years ago and attracted funds for research from governments and trusts. Established in the wake of the Ebola epidemic where there had been competition for access to vaccine, CEPI originally demanded affordable pricing of vaccines, transparency and sharing of data from all those who had benefitted from its funds.
However, under pressure from pharmaceutical corporations (primarily Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, but with unnamed parties threatening non-cooperation), these policies were ditched in 2018 bringing protest from Médecins Sans Frontières.
Gavi, (officially “Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance”, originally the “Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization”) was established in 2000. It is co-chaired by Bill Gates, and claims to have already helped vaccinate 822m children in the world’s poorest countries against other diseases. It asserts: “…Gavi pools country demand, guarantees long-term, predictable funding and brings down prices”.
Laudable, but a decade ago it was likewise criticised by MSF for failing to push down prices and favouring new drugs rather than simpler health approaches. We thus see self-acknowledged public-private partnerships, supporting the political-economic status quo, with a high degree of effective control over access to pharmaceuticals by poor people and perhaps promoting a dependency modus operandi.
This may be unfair. It must be acknowledged that the Gates Foundation has funded the survival of many thousands of children. But it appears not to have supported a revolution or challenge to neo-colonial “pharmocracy”.
Gates’ humanitarian vision is impressive and has been communicated to millions; but it’s technological rather than political. Give this a couple of minutes and see if you agree.
I wonder what would happen were Melinda to wake up Bill one night and say: “Hey, Honey, I’ve been thinking about Microsoft’s mission statement- ‘empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more’; let’s!”
— Stephen Pennells
Of course wealth disparities have multiple causes, but one of the causes in the current pandemic clearly is vaccine nationalism.
It’s accepted that a (the?) primary responsibility of governments is to protect their populations, but rich countries in the global North have used their high credit standing to enable them not only to domestic largesse but also in panic buying of not yet produced vaccines. They have hedged their bets with vast over-ordering, depriving others of the chance to get materials from producers. Canada is said to have bought five times as much vaccine as it needs; meanwhile the Mirror reports the UK having ordered 407m doses– for a population of 68m.
One.org suggested in February more equity should be achieved by radical sharing and called for it at the G7 meeting.
This didn’t happen and the subsequent shipment of AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia reflects European “business as usual” attitudes; production difficulties meant AZ hadn’t been able to fulfil its contract with the EU and Italy leapt in to retain stock due for export.
In South Africa many remember the deaths of millions of AIDS suffers in the 90s whilst drug companies sat on ARV patents and incompetent governments failed to intervene. Seeing a repeating situation and with the consciousness of Black Lives Matter the term #VaccineApartheid has been coined. This is painfully obvious there with even the Oxford AstraZeneca treatment costing twice the UK price.
Whilst AZ have pledged to hold prices to “at cost” for low income countries, the Serum Institute of India which has produced under license was not so regulated.
Added to this posturing for domestic audiences there have been daily stories about squabbles and bickering over the efficacy of different treatments.
Vaccine Diplomacy – Vaccine War
The provision of Vaccines has been identified as a new form of diplomacy and spreading soft power. This is seen positively by former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and was recently exemplified on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour (Sun. 28 March ).
Russia and China are seen as stealing a march on the West with sacrificial donations in key locations (e.g. the Balkans and Ethiopia) where they may hope to reestablish influence lost in recent years. It’s possible some of the stop-go confusion about vaccine efficacy and safety has been fermented to further geopolitical influence.
Things seem to be hotting up. Six months ago Microsoft reported Russian and North Korean hacking of “health care organisations”. Reuters also reported North Korean attacks on AstraZeneca. More recently the agency reported Chinese state hackers attacking the IT systems of the Serum Institute of India and another company, assertions denied by the Chinese government.
A Vaccine Peace Treaty?
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO who in January called vaccine inequality “a catastrophic moral failure” on 30 March called for a international health treaty to promote pandemic preparedness. Johnson, Merkel and Macron support this. But the text does not fundamentally challenge the current structures and modus operandi.
These structures and praxes are clearly not meeting the need to protect the global population as quickly or as equitably as could be achieved.
The result of this is the nullification of many years of economic and development progress along with social liberation. As usual those communities and individuals without the dollars to cushion them are pushed to the back of the queue or invited to accrue future obligations and mindsets.
Of course charity is welcome when it saves lives. But in the current situation it seems people facing pandemics need a deal that takes account of their situation and needs, rather than simply relying on the charity of others which may or may not be delivered.
A new approach is needed:
Solidarity and Global Justice
To find out what this might entail come to the webinar on 14th. Apr.- visit tinyurl.com/peoplesvaccine
We’ve been campaigning hard to stop the US-UK trade deal, but it is not the only threat to post-Brexit sovereignty, as the Government rushes to smuggle a whole raft of dangerous deals under the radar while the country is distracted by coronavirus lockdowns and the EU negotiations.
The recent deal with Japan is a prime example – it lacks many of the privacy protections that we are used to. The Government calls this ‘improving data flows’, but what it really means is that your private details can be traded on the open market.
And Parliament has little control over the process. The Trade Bill is stuck in a ping-pong match between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as the latter attempts to introduce an element of democracy into a Bill that essentially gives Government Ministers the power to do whatever they want with no effective oversight.
The Japan deal itself has little immediate effect, as the trade in data with Japan is currently minimal. But it is the thin end of a very thick wedge, as it sets precedents for the much bigger deals which the Government is edging towards with the US and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Selling our birthright
A major focus of UK-US post-Brexit trade negotiations will be the NHS patient database. It is probably the biggest, and most complete, collection of personal medical records in the world – an extremely valuable resource which can be used to improve healthcare provision. It can also be a source of massive profit for private companies – and a threat to the privacy of individual patients.
Google is already working with US healthcare companies to find profitable ways of exploiting such data, and they have already grabbed 1.6m patient records from the NHS, through an illegal collaboration with the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust.
Would you want a website to know your ethnic background?
Another danger posed by unregulated data flows their use by racist and other discriminatory algorithms. Recently, the Home Office was discovered to be using such an algorithm for ‘streamlining’ visa applications. Not only did the algorithm discriminate against applications from citizens of certain countries, it also used its own decisions as data for rating countries, thus creating a feedback loop of ever strengthening prejudice.
Both sides of the Atlantic have seen a growth in supposedly ‘predictive’ policing, based on machine learning. In the US, campaigners have been attacking the use of facial-recognition technology which ‘predicts’ the criminality of suspects, based on their appearance.
Insurance companies and credit agencies are also investing heavily in this kind of technology.
‘The public-private partnership from hell’
The business model of internet giants Facebook and Google is based on harvesting personal information about us to use for commercial purposes. These companies want to be able to move that information freely about the globe, passing it from company to company in search of profit. Much of this data will inevitably end up in the countries with the loosest legal regulation on its use
Cory Doctorow describes the current regime of data governance in the US as ‘the public-private partnership from hell, as corporations collect data for commercial purposes and share it with government agencies under the Homelands Security Act. It is a model that is no doubt being eyed by repressive governments everywhere.
The ‘internet of things’ and perpetual surveillance
Increasingly, everyday things are controlled by computers connected to the internet: electric meters; cars; fridges; computer games; TVs; stereo speakers; watches… You name it, it will
soon become part of the internet of things. And it will all be capable of collecting data and sending it to a central database. To be used… for what? Some of the potential uses may have great benefits for humankind. Others may just enable vast profits to be made. Some may be sinister, encroaching on our freedom or perpetuating injustice.
Who is to decide what will be permitted? Secretive corporate courts, held under the auspices of trade treaties outside democratic control? The next few years will decide this question.
The pandemic preoccupying and dominating the public’s consciousness, many more fundamental issues are in danger of being overlooked. So Global Justice Now, along with Trade Unions, War on Want, Traidcraft and others called for a national Day of Action on Saturday 24th. October, looking for images to use in publicity and for a photo petition as well as to raise awareness in the general population.
The threatened trade deal has numerous strands, all of which threaten our institutions, our standards and our democracy. They are even more dangerous to people in the Global South. If the UK’s acceptance is rolled out as a benchmark of what is required to trade with the dominant economic powers. In Manchester, we united with allies and made several outings to protest the deal. We also invited people to send in and post photos of themselves, their dogs, homes and associates with the message “Stop the US Trade Deal”.
Thursday (22nd. Oct.) saw us in Chorlton, exploiting the wide pavement outside Oxfam on Wilbraham Road and using a simple quiz-display to stimulate engagement with questions on US standards in food hygiene (how many rat hairs are allowed in 25g of cinnamon), permitted insecticide residues allowed on apples, toxic ingredients banned in cosmetics, and the expected cost of the 50 most expensive medicines used in primary care. This proved an excellent way of engaging people. Unusually we didn’t have cards to sign but the excellent flyer GJN had produced gives a link to an e-action and we had a QR code for those who wanted to find out more with their mobile phones. Footfall was disappointing, but with a higher than usual percentage engaging.
Next day we focused on the threat to democratic authorities taking action to stop climate change and joined with War on Want, Fridays for the Future, and Greater Manchester Campaign Against Climate Change’s normal vigil outside the Central Library.
Even the statue of Emmeline Pankhurst joined the protest, reminding Boris Johnson of his commitment on climate change, “We must act now, right now … extinction is forever, so our action must be immediate,” with the suffragist slogan slogan “Deeds Not Words”.
This brought honks of support from passing traffic and was streamed live by a KONP supporting media student.
Pia Feig (a GJN member and NHS activist spoke about the threat to our health service, not simply in being directly “taken over”, but of the threat of “standstill and ratchet clauses” being included in the deal, progressively biting off chunks of our service.
She also drew attention to the looting of the NHS patient records database. This is probably the most complete patient health database in the world and is an extremely valuable resource for medical research. Its sale to trans-national corporations is one of the least noticed ways in which the the Government is privatising the NHS. It is yet another example of how publicly funded research and knowledge production is expropriated by trans-national capital for profit, rather than being used for the benefit of patients. Big Pharma will look for lucrative opportunities to develop expensive medicines for minor complaints, rather than tackling public health priorities. Meanwhile, US insurance companies will want to use the data to identify and discriminate against the most vulnerable by refusing insurance to them.
Stephen Pennells picked up on the indirect threats to health, reprising the threat to nutrition through US food standards before going on to talk about employment, climate change, government secrecy and the worrying record of Biden, as Obama’s deputy supporting TTIP. This means that whoever is elected President, the campaign will have to further intensify. Both govenments, freed from the deadline of the US election will want something to spin as an economic opportunity in the aftermath of the pandemic’s effect on business, jobs and profits.
These actions reinforced alliances and spread our message. We learnt that we need to develop our media skills. Our speeches were unscripted and reasonable in terms of the “Just a Minute” criteria of speaking without “hesitation, repetition or deviation”. However a quarter of an hour is too long for modern attention spans and it would have benefitted from interactive questioning or reflective prompts.
So we are planning to work on this with a couple of our new recruits, one of whom is a new media student at Salford Uni. If you would like to be involved, don’t be shy!
The Coalition for Global Prosperity describes itself as “a non-partisan, not-for-profit organisation” which was launched a couple of years ago by David Cameron and Penny Mourdant (when at DfID) and “..brings together political, military, business and faith leaders who believe that an effective development budget, alongside an active diplomatic and defence strategy, keeps Britain at the forefront of saving lives, alleviating poverty and bringing freedom, security and prosperity to those who need it most.”
Its homepage shows a military helicopter offloading UKAid- well logo-ed up and several similar pictures (helpfully provided by HMG?) are evident elsewhere on their website.
The “our supporters” page boasts several dozen pics. of former PMs, Lords (spiritual and temporal), MPs, a few Aid NGO staff and an Assistant Chief of the General Staff who sneaked in in “civvies”. How many MPs were there for the photo-op for their constituency website, or were there out of personal commitment one can’t tell.
This might cause unease, as does the twitter feed if one worries about possible propaganda focussing on Aid as the answer with a video of Bill Gates.
“However, I was educated to “listen to the other side” and it can’t be denied many people in need are only alive now because of aid delivered by the Forces and paid for by wealthy people and institutions in the Global North (even if their poverty is in no small part due to said bodies).”
The Coalition for Global Poverty says it “.. brings together a wide coalition of aid supporters, with backgrounds from across the military, faith, business and political communities. We organise public and private events to explore the UK’s role as a global leader.” As such it publishes contributions and gives a platform to a range of (self-selecting) stakeholders, including MPs from various parties and business speakers with different views. Thus, it would appear, they gave the stage to Labour’s shadow International Development Secretary and I received an invitation (presumably because the Labour Party had an algorithm clocking my clicks) to what was billed as “a (Zoom) conversation with Preet Gill” – shadowing a department that has disappeared!
After a few minutes spent advertising the Coalition and Labour’s Campaign for International Development (who are keen to send out speakers to Constituency Labour Parties) Preet Gill spoke without interruption from her conservatory (whilst her children amused themselves behind her in the sitting room).
She repeated the usual adulation of DfID and was repeatedly adamant about the need for scrutiny of how the Overseas Aid budget is spent and wanted a new committee to do that, but if that were not possible as opposition parties don’t have the resources of government, proposed frequent parliamentary questions to harry ministers.
She also referred to debt cancellation, and the needs of countries in the Global South to be helped to recover post pandemic; but not to the proposal to set up permanent structures to adjudicate on irresponsible lending and allow for the structured “bankruptcy” of countries.
Although questions had been asked for and we had previously submitted 5, a couple of which we posted again in the Q&A, those selected seemed to come from insider colleagues and institutions and the session had been configured so we did not have a Chat facility to communicate laterally, find out who was there and spread ideas.
One had the feeling that things were being managed to avoid any nastiness – perhaps they were wary of zoom-bombing attacks. Or perhaps they simply don’t grasp that anyone interested in international poverty eradication might want to seriously interact with divergent ideas.
This outlook is evident in their blogs; diverse, but not divergent. Many seemed to be about “us” and “Britain as a force for good” (their strapline). I didn’t read them all, but the word “justice” doesn’t appear in the given introductory paragraphs. Not once. You might think that says something if you support an organisation like Jubilee Debt Campaign or Global Justice Now.
Preet Gill appeared to be someone to support – and lead to further and more radical steps. She seemed to me to be stuck with denigration of the Tories, while at the same time swallowing a “prosperity” mindset.
Going on about the Great British Public supporting Aid and being generous is all very well, but it doesn’t bring structural change unless political action is taken.
A luta continua
– Stephen Pennells
The pictures come from https://www.coalitionforglobalprosperity.com