The vast differences in global access to COVID-19 vaccines are sobering indeed, as conveyed by the various reports presented on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly. The challenges and issues associated with vaccine equity are very clear. This is especially the case when taking into consideration the serious opportunity costs and global negative externalities of not raising vaccination rates across the world. There is also the matter of the growing risk of reversals of the important development gains of recent decades. There is no doubt a great deal to protect, including the momentum towards the realization of SDGs by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050.
These are some of the realities and imperatives compelling the growing call to action from many leaders and various stakeholders in the international community and indeed the developing world. The bottom line is that we need to scale-up; we need to speed up and we need to synergize. It is a 3S call to action. Synergizing is what SDG 17 is all about – building up more impactful partnerships, optimizing resources and leveraging various capacities at both global and regional levels.
In addition to addressing COVID-19 vaccines regulatory approval asymmetries and delays, export bans, and the reluctance that many still express towards vaccination, it is abundantly clear that more vaccines need to be donated and made available to the developing world, and in particular low-income economies where vaccination levels are just too low. Countries that have achieved high levels of vaccinations have a responsibility to free up and release more supplies to low access regions, through COVAX, AVATT and bilateral arrangements. It is also necessary to address prevailing financial constraints in a more efficient and impactful manner. Many of us are inspired by how the IMF has boldly risen up to the occasion and made history with the recent extraordinary issuance of USD 650 billion in SDRs. This is most welcome indeed.
It will however be very important that global resources be channelled in greater volumes to the many low-income and middle-income countries that are in dire need for it. Indeed, with only 3% of this USD 650 billion earmarked for low-income countries, the growing calls for action must also be for well-considered reallocations of SDRs in an efficient and optimal manner – converted into hard currency via swap deals, concessional funding, grants, or other instruments – alongside the re-prioritization of other development funding. It is generally acknowledged that high income countries hardly need, if at all, their SDRs as they already have vast public funds and stimulus packages in place to fight the pandemic and economic recession.
Regional and sub-regional development finance institutions with strong presence and networks on the ground should not be excluded from the intermediation process, and rather, be included in the architecture of the flow of funds. This was one of the conclusions of the inaugural Finance in Common Summit that took place last year during the Paris Peace Forum. It was also a conclusion that came out of the Summit on Financing African Economies that took place earlier this year under the patronage of President Macron. There will be similar calls like this being made at the G20 Summit in Rome in October, and also during COP26 in Glasgow this November.
Centralizing such promising global resources far away from last mile under-vaccinated jurisdictions in Africa would end-up prolonging the pandemic as new variants develop, ultimately, coming at a higher cost for the international community. There are several fit for purpose African institutions that are well rooted on the ground and able to efficiently extend access to these badly needed funds in good time.
It is widely acknowledged that many medium and smaller level actions need to happen at regional and local levels to finance the trade of various essential medical supplies, not just vaccines. There is also the critical imperative of strengthening African healthcare infrastructure, pharmaceutical production and related human resource development as part of the build back better agenda. At the same time, local economic development to stimulate SMEs and support local livelihoods will continue to require additional deployment of institutional capacity and suitable funding.
Some level of decentralization is essential if implementation is to happen meaningfully in good time for the desired impact. Scaling-up without speeding-up and without synergizing is just not good enough.