Without access to vaccines, COVID will continue widening inequality everywhere

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented public health, economic and social crises, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions and exacerbating inequalities throughout the world, the World Bank said at the COVID-19: Vaccines for Developing Countries event on Friday.

“Without access to vaccines, the gap will widen further”, warned the UN multi-faceted agency, calling for “strong partnership and cooperation at the national, regional and global levels”. 

World Bank President David R. Malpass, pointed out that inequality runs deep, encompassing not only vaccinations but also median income, interest rate differentials, bankruptcy processes and access to credit – all of which put poorer countries at a stark disadvantage.

Fully recognizing “the debt problem facing the poorer countries”, he updated the event on his recent meeting with G20 leading industrialized nations, saying that they welcomed the acceleration of the International Development Association (IDA) 20 process, which he maintained is important because “it is the World Bank’s very effective platform to give concessional aid and grants to the poorest countries”.

In response to COVID, Mr. Malpass said that the World Bank was making “some progress on debt transparency though collateralization of debt remains a problem”.

He outlined the plan, on a country by country basis, to assist the developing world to be more resilient in the year ahead, including poverty reduction, addressing climate impacts, and working towards strengthening education and health systems.

“We are trying to achieve transformative scalable change for people that live in poorer countries”, he underscored.

The World Bank’s Managing Director of Operations, Axel van Trotsenburg, said the pandemic had triggered an “enormous reversal in progress” on whole societies and emphasized the need to focus on crisis preparedness.

He advised against taking a “narrow view” on health only, but to consider the entire agenda as was “best summarized with the SDGs”, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

“We need to keep solidarity, not only in the health area, but across the development spectrum”, Mr. van Trotsenburg said, stressing that “only together” will we survive and prosper.

World Trade Organization (WTO) chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that developing countries that export commodities have faced plummeting prices and tourism has collapsed during the pandemic.

She underscored that the world needs a financing framework to deal with preparedness and response in emergencies and that supply chains must be kept open to better safeguard economic systems.

Henrietta H. Fore, head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), shone a spotlight on the plight of women and children during the pandemic.

Noting that women are often the primary caregivers, both as healthcare workers and at home, she said that “they are really torn in every direction” and expressed concern that their participation in paid work is “in decline”.

“We are very concerned about all of the services that women and children usually access in their normal lives”, she added, explaining that they are either inaccessible or often totally unavailable.

The UNICEF chief shared some startling statistics, including that 140 million families are likely to fall below the poverty line; 168 million children have been out of school for more than nine months; and one-of-three students do not have access to remote learning.

And while it is critical for children to keep getting these services, they are not always available, she said.

“So, it is often the woman in the household becomes not just a parent but a teacher, and then it is very difficult for her to be out of the home” to hold down a job, she added.