In a speech last month, UN Secretary General António Guterres described universal COVID-19 vaccine rollout as “the biggest moral test before the global community”. Yet, as the Secretary General pointed out, global vaccine rollout has been utterly unequal: “Just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose.”
We in countries like Israel with successful vaccine programs have a responsibility to support the Global South and help ensure every person in the world has access to a vaccine. We can bring the public health lessons from Israel’s vaccine success to bear in communities and cultures around the world. The very nature of a global pandemic shows just how important this is. It is impossible to seal ourselves off from the rest of the world. COVID-19 will not be over for us, here, until it is over for everyone, everywhere.
At IsraAID, Israel’s leading non-governmental humanitarian aid organization, we are putting this message into practice with our new Global Vaccine Access initiative, launching this week in Eswatini. At the invitation of the Government of Eswatini, we assembled a team of specialists including an epidemiologist, a public health nurse, a medical logistician and a community mental health expert to work with the ministry of health as they design and implement their national COVID-19 vaccination program. Our team members left Israel the moment Ben Gurion Airport reopened on Sunday, arriving in Eswatini after 24 hours of circuitous travel – which seems to be the norm in the COVID-19 era. IsraAID’s mission to Eswatini is supported by the Kirsh Foundation, founded by businessman and Eswatini citizen Nathan Kirsh.
We believe that the key to successfully overcoming a crisis lies in building a holistic response. When I helped lead IsraAID’s work in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis, we focused on building trust with the community and “helping the helpers” – strengthening support systems for frontline medical workers. In Eswatini, we will work with the Ministry of Health to build a vaccine rollout that puts the needs of Eswatini communities first. Our team has already swung into action.
Eswatini has suffered greatly during the pandemic. This small country of just over one million has some of the highest COVID-19 death rates in Africa, with 17,000 people infected and over 600 tragically dead. Included among those figures are several senior members of government and Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini. The virus compounds existing social vulnerabilities – Eswatini has the highest rates of HIV prevalence in the world and nearly forty percent of the population live on less than $1.90 per day. These are some of the many issues the health ministry is contending with as they plan their vaccination campaign.
Around the world, COVID-19 has compounded existing crises and vulnerabilities. From loss of livelihoods to mental health crises, from lack of hygiene supplies to increased rates of Sexual & Gender-Based Violence, we cannot solve this crisis without addressing the “shadow pandemic” affecting communities across the planet. We are seeing this clearly in Global South countries where IsraAID operates. By bringing that perspective into our new vaccine initiative, we hope to play our part in what must be a global effort to protect people from COVID-19 – and provide communities with the space and opportunity to focus on building a better future after the pandemic has ended.
We are committed to stay in Eswatini and other countries across the Global South to support the long-term recovery from the COVID-19 crisis – just as we stayed in Sierra Leone long after Ebola was gone. You can follow our team’s progress in Eswatini on IsraAID’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and website.