A vaccine to combat COVID-19 should be seen as a “global good” that is available to all countries, Africa’s first elected female head of state has told Sky News.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who served as president of Liberia from 2006 to 2018, warned the failure to share an effective coronavirus drug with all nations would risk fuelling further mass migration, disunity and conflict.
A vaccine, once developed, would face the same kind of fierce state competition already seen for vital resources needed to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), unless action was taken, she said.
Ms Sirleaf made her comments in an interview with Sky’s Dermot Murnaghan for the Daily podcast.
It follows the announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that she has been appointed as co-chair of an independent panel to examine the global response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Speaking to Murnaghan, Ms Sirleaf said: “There’s competition for all that’s required to address COVID-19 and only those that have the resources can access it very quickly to be able to meet their needs.
“As we develop a vaccine we will face the same kind of competition if action is not taken to address that.”
She added: “We want to see vaccine as a global good. Something that should be available to all countries, rich or poor, because they too are entitled to life and they are not responsible for something like a virus that’s attacked them, something for which they have no control.
“Can we get that? A lot of advocacy will have to be done. A lot of discussion.”
Ms Sirleaf also called for African scientists to be involved in the global effort to find a vaccine, enabling them to share their knowledge and also learn from others.
She said: “At the end of the day, if the vaccine is not made available to all as a global good, once again you have countries that will face pandemics, that will find that they are unable to cope.
“But what happens to them will lead again to the movement across borders, much more disunity in the world, more conflict, poor nations. That’s a challenge.”
Ms Sirleaf has also worked with former UK prime minister David Cameron to highlight the plight of fragile states – home to an estimated 800 million people – and seek to secure international support in tackling the problems they face.
She told Murnaghan: “We would like to see attention on fragile states. Those states that have post-conflict difficulties, that have inadequate capacity, that have exhibited poverty for years.
“If something is not done to address that you are going to find there will be more migration, there will be more conflict… terrorism will rise.”
She stressed the need to “send a strong message to the world on the importance of taking measures to address the long-term crises that these countries have faced that have put them into this poverty trap”.
Ms Sirleaf also warned the pandemic had underlined the digital divide and threatened to widen inequalities, as those countries “with inadequate capacities and systems” were unable to access the benefits of distance learning and online healthcare.
“If we don’t address it the world is going to become more unequal,” she said.
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