After the US administration announced its support for the proposal to suspend patents on Covid-19 vaccines and other technologies, community health workers from Pakistan, known as Lady Health Workers (LHW), wrote to 13 waiver-sceptic governments to urge them to share the vaccine and support the TRIPS waiver tabled at the World Trade Organisation by South Africa, India, Pakistan and other developing countries.
“We are delighted that the Biden administration as taken the step of support the TRIPS wavier proposal and are confident that they will engage in meaningful negotiations for a strong waiver. We call on the other governments we have written to and on the European Commission, to follow suit,” said Halima Leghari Zulqarnain, President of the All Sindh Lady Health Workers and Employees Union, and Musarat Basharat, General Secretary of the Punjab Ladies Health Workers Union, enfatically.
LHW are an essential workforce of almost 124,000 women from economically vulnerable backgrounds entrusted to deliver vital primary health services, such as maternal and child health, family planning and health promotion, and act as a liaison between the formal healthcare system and neglected communities.
“We write on behalf of the front-line community health workers of Pakistan to urge your government to support the proposal of India and South Africa, among several other countries, for a “Waiver From Certain Provisions Of The TRIPS Agreement For The Prevention, Containment And Treatment Of Covid-19”, reads the letter signed by Mrs Zulqarnain and Mrs Basharat.
Pakistan is still fighting to eradicate polio and despite the extraordinary times being faced due to the covid pandemic, front-line health workers such as Lady Health Workers are expected to run the campaign for polio vaccination without being protected against Covid-19.
“Our members are risking their lives to keep the community safe. They are contributing to the pandemic response, supporting our communities, and delivering essential public health services. Many have contracted Covid-19 as a result of their work. We know the difference it makes to a vaccination program to be free of intellectual property protection. The polio vaccination campaigns we lead would not have been possible if the rights to it were held by one pharmaceutical company” said Mrs Basharat.
Pakistan, like other countries, is facing challenges in accessing enough vaccines at affordable prices to inoculate its population against Covid-19. As a result, the Senate passed a Resolution in early April asking for vaccines to be available for free, or at affordable rates.
“Inadequate vaccination is leaving the door open for further mutations to occur and extend the pandemic. According to epidemiologists, low vaccine coverage in any countries make it more likely for vaccine-resistant mutations to appear, rendering the vaccination campaigns that are currently underway ineffective. This is why we asked governments of rich countries to support the Covid-19-related waiver.” concluded Mrs Zulqarnain.
All Sindh Lady Health Workers and Employees Union, and Punjab Ladies Health Workers Union wrote to the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, UK, USA, and the European Commission.