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Opinion

No one is safe until everyone is safe

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Michèle Boccoz - The Philippine Star

Yesterday, the French government delivered its donation of 1,632,900 AstraZeneca vaccines to the Philippines via the COVAX Facility. This is the first shipment of the 5.85 million vaccine doses pledged by France for the Philippines’ COVID-19 vaccination program.

It is our hope that this donation would contribute to the acceleration of the Philippine vaccination drive and that the most vulnerable persons living all over the country would have access to these life-saving vaccines.

It is now common knowledge that the COVID-19 pandemic requires a massive global and multilateral response. Since its onset, France, alongside its fellow member-states of the European Union and donors of the COVAX Facility, have been mobilized under the principle that no country must be left behind.

Indeed, no one is safe until everyone is safe.

We are actively supporting two global COVID-19 related initiatives, particularly on universal and equitable access to vaccines. The first is the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) initiated in April 2020 by the World Health Organization and the European Union, spearheaded by France and Germany. France is contributing over half a billion euros to this initiative to accelerate the development and production of tests, treatments and vaccines for the benefit of countries that need them most.

France has also been one of the earliest and most active supporters of the COVAX Facility, which has provided millions of vaccines to the Philippines since March of this year. This international mechanism seeks to speed up vaccination and enable fair access to safe vaccines worldwide. The target is to provide 2.6 billion doses to more than 190 countries in order to vaccinate at least 40 percent of the population of low-income countries by early 2022. Since 2020, France has committed to share 120 million COVID-19 vaccines by mid-2022.

The COVAX Facility is now a key institutional player in the fight against the pandemic and in making COVID-19 vaccines a global public good. However, this is an achievement that did not come without hurdles. As Assistant Director-General at the World Health Organization in Geneva prior to arriving in Manila, I had a first-hand experience of the challenges that arose during the onset of the pandemic in 2020. Building ACT-A was an act of faith at a time when leaders were faced with the first pandemic since the 1918 flu outbreak, and where vaccines were not yet available.

ACT-A set the principle that one cannot fight a pandemic alone – international organizations, governments, philanthropic groups, research institutions, the private sector and civil society all had to work together and contribute. Solidarity and vaccine equity are key in bringing all these stakeholders together, which was a huge challenge during the period in which the world was experiencing the “Great Lockdown.” Now, the challenge lies in the full implementation of the ACT-A in order to protect the most vulnerable, as well as limit the risk of mutations and new COVID variants that threaten the world population.

On the matter of global public good, solidarity is simply the most effective way to move forward. The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged health systems everywhere and has worsened blatant disparities in access to health services. It reminds us of the importance of a global, coordinated effort to strengthen health systems in developing countries.

In this regard, France has been advocating at the highest level for the need for Universal Health Coverage. This view is shared by the Philippine authorities.

Many households across the globe often suffer under heavy financial pressure to pay medical or hospital bills. Investment in health systems paves the way for inclusive and sustainable financing for health, reducing the burden of out-of-pocket payments for households.

Several countries, including the Philippines, have now started on the path towards post-pandemic recovery but recent developments, such as the discovery of a new variant, have raised new uncertainties. It is therefore imperative for the global community to continue its multilateral efforts to fight COVID-19 and save lives, especially in countries most in need. Alongside its partners, France will continue to stand with the Philippines in ensuring that Filipinos all over the archipelago will have access to these life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, as well as in supporting the country’s public health and pandemic response on the basis of science, solidarity and cooperation.

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Michèle Boccoz is the Ambassador of France to the Philippines and to Micronesia.

COVID-19 VACCINE
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