The World Health Organisation says vaccination is one of the most affordable health solutions
The World Health Organisation has stated that vaccination is one of the most cost-effective health interventions available. Efficient vaccination programmes provide protection and save millions of people from illness, disability and death; however, they also have the power to control and even eradicate disease. It is true to say that polio and tuberculosis are no longer considered a threat in developed nations, while the WHO officially declared that smallpox and rinderpest have been eradicated – all of this is thanks to strong vaccination programmes that are open to all.
As President of GKSD Holding, Chairman of GSD Middle East and Vice President of Gruppo San Donato, Italy’s largest private healthcare group, I am proud to say that we have been providing critical support to the Italian Government since the start of the pandemic in the fight against COVID-19 and continue to support them in COVID-19 testing and vaccination programmes. We have also been supporting low-income nations in Africa and the MENA region for many years through philanthropic projects that allow medical skill sharing through training programmes as well as medical missions carried out in both Italy and in situ. Then, in October 2020 in my role as Vice President of the Group, I led roundtable discussions in Rome with European and MENA region government ministers and institutional representatives aimed at encouraging cooperation among nations that would lead to the sharing of strategies in the battle to eradicate COVID-19.
Back in October 2020, the vaccine was still in trial phase, yet it was nonetheless clear to all present that universal and equitable access to any COVID-19 vaccine developed would be a fundamental criterion if we were serious about ending the pandemic. We have now come to realise that the only way this can be achieved is if wealthier nations and continents such as the G7 nations – who have bought up most of the vaccine supply – start sharing it with the rest of the world. Wealthy regions such as Europe and North America must be serious about donating vaccines and work to a timetable with the U.N. Covax programme. If we consider the rate of domestic vaccination as the benchmark for setting up a timetable, we could potentially see European vaccine donations increase at the same rate as the domestic population is vaccinated.
It is an unacceptable statistic that one in four citizens in high-income countries have been vaccinated, whilst that number is only one in five hundred in low-income nations. I share WHO General Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ view that such a chasm of inequality is indeed a ‘moral outrage’. This outrage appears to have been finally heard by global leaders. At the 2021 G7 summit that was held in the U.K. all of the participants recognised the need to adopt a global approach to vaccination. During the first days of the summit the leaders of the major industrial nations agreed to pledge one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to low-income countries in a bid to reject the ‘nationalistic’ approach that has been adopted to date.
The European Union is a major player in the fight to vaccinate the world and its proximity to the MENA region has made it the ideal starting point for a coordinated cross-border approach that will mitigate the effects of the pandemic in the region. The EU was among the first of the high-income institutions that committed to the COVAX dictum that called for a solution that would ‘accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as diagnostics and treatments, and guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to them for people in all countries.’ The Covid-19 situation in India has demonstrated to the world, and in particular, to Europe, just how important it is for all nations to vaccinate the most vulnerable members of society and as many people as possible if we are to stop the transmission of the virus.
However, a major concern to European leaders is the continuing level of regional inequalities within Mediterranean countries. As noted during the Euro-Mediterranean Regional and Local Assembly, concerns were raised about “The risk of a vaccination-divide and urges political actors to facilitate fair and equitable access for health". It is a correct assumption that since the Covid-19 calamity concerns humanity as a whole, humanity as a whole must unite and face the situation as one if we are to defeat this invisible enemy. We have to set aside historic enmities, political positions and sense of entitlement if we are to save lives. Furthermore, Covid-19 has shown the world that this ongoing pandemic highlights the importance of strong healthcare systems and emergency response systems. It has also shown that collaboration among governments, multilateral institutions, civil society, and the private sector are all possible with the right will.
I am pleased to note that in this current crisis it is not only governments that are coming together, but also businesses and philanthropists. In particular, the E.U. understands the importance of cooperating with the MENA region to identify coherent and efficient strategies and solutions that can mitigate the implications of COVID-19 and improve healthcare systems in general based on the premise that the absolute foundation and key component of any prosperous society is in its having a strong, fit and healthy population.
The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the biggest peacetime test for our society. Yet the pandemic can also teach us another important lesson and one that may well safeguard our future. It can teach us the importance of altruism. For too long now wealthy, developed European nations have paid lip service to the difficulties faced in the less wealthy Southern Mediterranean neighbours. Too long have we ignored the plight of those in poorer nations, where epidemics have struck a weakened population with merciless efficiency, in much the same way as COVID-19 is now striking healthy and wealthy nations today.
In the post war years, the devastation that epidemics brought with them was confined to low and middle-income countries; while the wealthier nations were protected by easy access to advanced, often universal healthcare systems, vaccination programmes and technological advances in medical care. COVID-19 is an unseen and unwelcome guest that respects no boundaries, therefore, cooperation and collaboration among nations is of critical importance. We must forget our individual nationalities and come together as humans of equal value. What is important today is to create an alliance where we can share our vaccines, for it only united that we conquer, divided we will inevitably fall.
The healthcare system is the first line of defence against this invisible enemy. We have to learn from this crisis and invest in our healthcare systems around the world. We must help developing nations gain access to efficient health services. In order to achieve this, we must continue to work together in much the same way as we are working together to defeat COVID-19. We will need to revisit our healthcare models and Europe can share its most efficient and successful systems with partners in the MENA region. As Chairman of GSD Middle East and Vice President of Gruppo San Donato, I have seen first-hand how operators within the private health sector hold the key.
Healthcare groups such as GSD have shown that private healthcare can be fully integrated into the public health system. The private healthcare system can play a central role during a crisis by treating a high percentage of patients. Indeed, to use the example of GSD, although it makes up only 13% of the healthcare system it treated 18% of COVID-19 patients in Lombardy at the start of the pandemic. GSD medical research facilities were also critical in the development lifesaving treatment for COVID-19 patients. Such figures demonstrate just how efficient the private sector can be in terms of responsiveness when properly integrated into the public health system and provides an ideal model for future Euro-Mediterranean collaboration.
I welcome the E.U.’s ‘reinforced commitment’ to its Mediterranean neighbours and its eagerness to find tangible healthcare solutions through cooperation. However, we must recognise the importance of local and regional authorities as drivers of development and continue to create investment partnerships that will increase the resilience of the Mediterranean region – a region that already faced major economic, social and political challenges before the pandemic. The E.U. has the knowledge and experience that can be transferred to its weaker member states and Mediterranean neighbours and that will allow them to transform words into policy and finally policy into benefits that reduce territorial healthcare disparities within individual nations.