Health & Sanitation

Diseases from unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. That’s wrong. We all have the right to clean water. Oxfam is providing life-saving clean water, and sanitation and hygiene education in some of the world’s poorest countries, as well as in areas struck by humanitarian crises.

A year in pictures what we accomplished together in 2021

Pascaline, public health officer, shows the community at the Mwaka IDP site, DRC, how to use a new handwashing station that can be quickly installed in a variety of emergency settings. Photo: Arlette Bashizi/Oxfam

2021. So much continuing turbulation and uncertainty for everyone. A year – another one – when the need for us all to stand up and stand together, to help others, has been so very difficult to do. But a year – another one – when time after time, across the world in big ways and small, the power of people to organize, reach out and help one another prevailed – inevitable, vital, positive and affirming – again and again.

 

End of Year 2021

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Our supporters and partners reached over 25 million people last year through Oxfam’s humanitarian and programmatic work, more than 14 million of them directly from our Covid-related responses. With your support, we worked with 4128 partner agencies and implemented 1843 projects worldwide. Thank you. We hope all of our supporters, partners, staff, the people living in the communities across the world, can take a moment of reflection and pride in this snapshot of stories that hint of the work we accomplished together to make a real difference in many millions of people’s lives in 2021.
Photo: Roanna Rahman/Oxfam

In India, we raced against time to protect the most vulnerable from Covid-19.

When the second wave of COVID-19 hit India in late April, it created a public health crisis that left hospitals overwhelmed and people literally dying in the streets. In less than a month, the country saw more than 100,000 deaths, bringing the total death toll to more than 300,000 – the third highest in the world behind the United States and Brazil. To help government hospitals cope with this deadly second wave, Oxfam procured and delivered medical equipment such as oxygen generators, thermometers and oxygen tanks, beds, and personal protective equipment (PPE) kits for frontline health workers. We also assisted people who have lost their means of livelihood and helped migrant workers stranded far from home with no work, money or food during lockdowns.
Photo: Kaff Media/Oxfam

In Yemen, we worked tirelessly to provide relief to the most affected.

Salem* and his son Omar* (name changed) had been displaced four times before moving to Alswidan Camp in Marib, Yemen, where they now live with five other members of the family in a tiny tent. Each time they would leave behind everything and walk for days to reach their next safe location. Omar was born in 2015, the year the war in Yemen started – war is all he has ever known. Conflict continued for a sixth year in Yemen, devastating livelihoods and leaving 13.5 million people suffering from acute hunger. Almost 70 percent of the population urgently need humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing clean water and hygiene items to help people avoid cholera and COVID-19, cash to help them buy food, and support for earning a living through agriculture and small businesses.
Photo: Hosam Salem/Oxfam

In Gaza, we helped Palestinians rebuild and recover from violence.

Abdelsamad Alqanou, Oxfam Water and Sanitation officer, is following the implementation of water and sewage maintenance work in a neighbourhood in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza. After 11 days of intense bombardment over the Gaza Strip, a ceasefire was called on the 21st of May. According to the Ministry of Health, 242 Palestinians were killed, and 1,900 were injured. Israeli attacks caused severe damages to residential and commercial buildings, schools, and infrastructure, including roads, electricity networks, water installations and agricultural lands. Over 2,500 people have been made homeless due to the destruction of their homes. To meet the urgent needs, Oxfam provided water and sanitation services with spare parts for operation and maintenance during emergencies, including water and sewage pipes, valves, pumps, filters, and oil.
Photo: Shaikh Ashraf Ali/Oxfam

In Bangladesh, we strove to promote health and safety across the refugee camps.

In July, several days of heavy monsoon rain in Southeast Bangladesh led to severe flooding and landslides in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps. Rainwater displaced families and inundated roads and bridges, shelters, and critical infrastructure – heightening the risk of water-borne illness.

Impacted communities were surrounded by water—but none of it was safe to drink. The flooding occurred as Bangladesh was logging a record spike in Covid-19 cases – placing refugees, host communities, and responders at heightened risk from the virus.

With our partners, we provided critical repairs to water and sanitation facilities, distributed jerry cans of emergency drinking water and water purification tablets, and shared essential health awareness information to keep refugees safe in the crisis. (Photo: Shaikh Ashraf Ali/Oxfam)

Photo: Mustafa Osman/Oxfam

In South Sudan, we protected girls’ education from the pandemic impacts.

Winnie (name changed), 17, is a graduate student in Oxfam’s Education for Life-program in Juba, South Sudan. A lot of young girls in her area have left school during the lockdown, but with Oxfam’s support, many have been able to return. “I knew that I would eventually go back to school after the lockdown. My biggest dream is to become a lawyer, to solve the issues in my society,” says Winnie.

Women and girls have been the most severely affected by conflict, COVID-19, and climate change in South Sudan. The pandemic and resulting closure of schools in March 2020 exacerbated many of the challenges they face in pursuing an education, like early and forced marriage, teen pregnancy and gender-based violence.

Photo: Zaid Al-Bayati/Oxfam

In Iraq, we supported families with cash assistance and grants to start businesses.

It is four years since the city of Mosul and its environs were returned from ISIS control to that of the Government of Iraq.  Thousands of families, who had fled the violence and lived in camps, are now returning. They join others living among destroyed houses, lacking access to healthcare, education, and water. The challenges are immense. We have been supporting people of Mosul with cash assistance, grants to start businesses, repairs to schools and access to water.

Farah (name changed) started her own hair salon after the liberation of the city. It is the main income now for her and her family. “After ISIS everything changed. I gained more independence as now our society has finally realized that women can provide not only for themselves but for their kids and whole family”, she said.

Photo: Arlene Bax/Oxfam

In Vanuatu, we used blockchain technology to revolutionize humanitarian aid.

In times of crisis, traditional aid distributions of food, shelter and other emergency supplies are not always the best or most efficient way to provide relief. Oxfam is one of the first humanitarian organisations to use blockchain technology for cash transfer programming, to deliver emergency cash in a faster, cheaper and more transparent fashion than ever before.


The UnBlocked Cash solution consists of the e-voucher “tap-and-pay” cards used by beneficiaries, a smartphone app through which vendors receive the payments, and an online platform where NGOs like Oxfam can monitor transactions remotely and in real-time.


After a ground-breaking pilot in Vanuatu, we scaled the project to distribute cash and voucher assistance to over 35,000 beneficiaries affected by the Category 5 Cyclone Harold and COVID-19. 
 

Photo: Juanito Bantong/Oxfam

In the Philippines, we sowed the seeds of climate resiliency.

When devastating Typhoon Goni barreled across the Philippines November 2020, it came at the worst possible time - rice harvest season – and while the region was still reeling from the effects of Typhoon Quinta a week before. These typhoons are a common occurrence in the country. They have grown in severity and frequency and are in large part due to climate change. Every time, it takes months for farmers to recover. 


After Typhoon Goni, Rice Watch Action Network (RWAN) offered community leaders in Carangcang village to help them start growing vegetables hydroponically (without soil) through a project funded by Oxfam. Instead of distributing seeds, RWAN and Oxfam distributed seedlings. This way, not only would the community have seeds, but they also had the ability to grow plants that could supply seeds to other farmers. 
 

Photo: Samuel Turpin/Oxfam

In Burkina Faso, we helped farmers grow food in a hot and dry climate.

Imagine growing vegetables in temperatures approaching 50 degrees with recurrent droughts. In Burkina Faso, where farmers struggle to survive the effects of climate change, it is a matter of survival for much of the population that depends on agriculture for their food. “All my life I have been farming," says Alizeta Sawadogo, 55, “I used to grow cereals. But it rains less and less, and the dry season is getting longer and hotter. Yields are getting lower and lower.”


With the support of Oxfam and local partner ATAD, Alizeta joined a group of 50 vulnerable and landless women in a collective farm of two hectares, where she learned about climate change adaptation. For Alizeta, it is an opportunity to reinvent herself: “I have learned to produce organic food using environmentally friendly techniques,” she says. “I can feed my family all year round.” 
 

Photo: Tatiana Cardeal/Oxfam

In Brazil, we revealed labour exploitation in coffee farms.

Inequality in the food system has never been higher. Despite the food industry generating revenue of trillions of dollars annually the vast numbers of people who go to bed hungry are themselves food producers or agricultural workers. Covid-19 has sharpened these inequalities and pushed many food workers and farmers in the Global South into greater poverty.

FELIPE NAME CHANGED, 33, lives in the north of the state of Minas Gerais, where he earns his living from temporary jobs. With the pandemic, opportunities became scarce. He worked in slavery-like conditions on a coffee farm in the south of the state. He and a colleague harvested about 2.5 tons of coffee a day and received no salary. They drank contaminated water, slept on the floor and received no equipment to protect themselves from Covid-19.

Photo: Andy Aitchison/Oxfam

In cities across the world, we marched for climate justice.

Climate change has no borders and affects us all. It especially hurts those in poorer countries, which are also the countries that contribute the least to it. The next decade is critical to putting us onto a safer track. We only have eight years left to turn the tides and prevent a catastrophic global temperature rise.

As world leaders gathered at COP26 in Glasgow, we joined the World Climate March to pressure them to act now on the climate crisis. On 6th of November, the Global Day of Action saw thousands of people marching for climate justice in cities and towns across the world. In Glasgow and London our march brought the voices of thousands of activists, particularly the most affected people and areas, to the streets via video screens, ad-bikes and pedicabs.

5 ways you helped Oxfam fight inequality in 2021

In a year of continued struggle and upheaval, you never stopped showing up in the fight against inequality.

As 2021 has come to a close, we are amazed by Oxfam’s supporters and their dedication to ending poverty and injustice around the world. 2021was not easy—with an ongoing pandemic - but you continued to show up and make your voices heard.

Here are some of the ways you made a difference in 2021.

1. You helped the most vulnerable survive COVID-19 in India.

When the second wave of COVID-19 hit India in April this year, it created a public health crisis that overwhelmed hospitals and left people literally dying in the streets. Within a month, there were more than 100,000 deaths, bringing the country’s total death toll to over 300,000—the third highest in the world behind the United States and Brazil.

Through your donations and support, Oxfam was able to provide medical equipment such as oxygen tanks, beds, PPE kits, and more to frontline health workers at hospitals across India, and we worked with 60 partners to provide hygiene kits, thermometers, and oxygen level meters to families.

In addition to providing material resources, Oxfam has urged the Indian government to assist migrant workers returning to their homes with free COVID-19 tests, cash, shelter and isolation centers for those needing them, as well as to increase efforts to prevent violence against women.

Oxfam staff Nikhil Wagh and Parmeshwar Patil carrying an oxygen concentrator into the Yashwantrao Chavan Memorial Hospital. Oxfam has distributed two oxygen concentrators and 50 safety kits for frontline health service providers in Pune, Maharashtra state. Oxfam India

2. We demanded a People’s Vaccine.

Oxfam co-founded the People’s Vaccine Alliance in order to fight for a patent-free, mass-produced, and fairly distributed vaccine available free of charge to everyone, everywhere. We are in partnership with Amnesty International Ireland, Trócaire, The Irish Global Health Network, and many more organisations. Over 400 leading doctors and scientists have issued a letter to An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin TD, requesting an urgent meeting to ensure Ireland is working to support the TRIPS waiver. A small representation from the Doctors for Vaccine Equity group, who are part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance in Ireland, and the Irish Society of Immunology presented the letter to the Taoiseach’s office.

3. You responded to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

In May of this year, Gaza was devastated by rocket attacks and shelling in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, resulting in nearly 450,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance, and over 100,000 displaced people. Contributions from people like you allowed Oxfam to work with local aid organizations in Gaza to provide blankets and mattresses, hygiene items, and the material needs to supply drinking water for 400,000 people. We also were able to give cash to farmers so they could restart their work. Oxfam plans to aid 19 schools in repairing their water and sanitation systems.

An escalation in the conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel has brought extensive damage to residential and commercial buildings, schools, roads, electricity network and water installations, and agricultural lands in Gaza. Fady Hanona

4. You supported ongoing humanitarian work in Bangladesh, Yemen, and other countries.

Oxfam supporters remain crucial in our ongoing humanitarian work in places like Bangladesh, where Oxfam and local partners have been assisting Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar and are now living in dangerous, overcrowded conditions. In Yemen, your support has enabled us to assist 3 million people since 2015. This year, because of donations from people like you, we were able to provide aid to those in the Marib region who were recently displaced by fighting in the area. We delivered cash to more than 2,000 families and dislodging 55,000 litres of sewage from latrines each day.

Families seeking safety in Marib, including this man and his six-year-old son, have had to flee fighting multiple times. Kaff Media / Oxfam

5. You fought inequality worsened by the pandemic.

If there’s one thing that become abundantly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that inequality makes everything worse. This year you continued to join us in our fight for equality and justice.

This year has not been easy for any of us, and yet you have remained dedicated to tackling inequality at its roots. Your support has helped people living in poverty across the globe, whether they were impacted by COVID-19, surviving a conflict, or fighting for their rights.  None of this work would be possible without you. 

Oxfam Ireland calls on Taoiseach to advocate for Covid-19 Vaccine IP waiver at European Council meeting

Oxfam Ireland has today (16.12.21) reiterated its appeal for the Irish Government to support a waiver on intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines and to call on the European Commission to end its blockage of the waiver proposal at the next meeting of the World Trade Organisation.

The development organisation is calling on An Taoiseach Michael Martin to advocate for EU support of the waiver at the European Council meeting, which begins today in Brussels. Over 100 countries worldwide, including the United States, are in favour of the waiver, and the European Union is now the largest block to its introduction.

The call comes as pressure grows within Government and from opposition parties, for the Government to take such a stance. On Wednesday (15.12.21) a motion – introduced by Senator Alice Mary Higgins – passed unchallenged in the Seanad on securing cross party support, including senators from coalition parties.

The waiver, known as a TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver on Covid-19 vaccine technology, would enable the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for pharmaceutical companies, vastly increasing vaccine production across the world.

Speaking today, CEO of Oxfam Jim Clarken said: “We would like to congratulate and thank Senator Alice Mary Higgins and all Seanad members who supported the passing of this motion, for showing the leadership that has been lacking elsewhere. It is time for the Government to stop blocking this life-saving action and start working towards fair distribution of vaccines.

“Last night’s Seanad vote shows cross-party support for the waiver, including within the coalition parties. The motion also follows on from similar motions in the Italian and European parliament and pressure is now on the Taoiseach as he meets his EU counterparts today. We need him to be a leader at this point – advocating for the waiver which will save the live of millions across the globe."

“Providing greater access to vaccines in low- and middle-income countries will not only save lives in those countries, but also protect countries in this part of the world from Covid-19 variants such as Omicron. It is no surprise that the Omicron was first discovered in South Africa, in a region where vaccination rates are far below the rates here in Europe. As has been stated by the World Health Organisation time and again, until we are all protected, none of us are protected. The likelihood of new variants, greater suffering and tragedy, and greater economic and social disruption to everyone’s lives will continue unless we ensure that everyone everywhere has an opportunity to be vaccinated.”

Also speaking about the motion passed on Tuesday, Senator Alice Mary Higgins said: “Public health has to take priority in a pandemic. It is clear that a TRIPS waiver is a crucial first step in the global scaling up of vaccine manufacture and access. The longer the European Commission continues to obstruct or delay progress on this, the more lives will be unnecessarily lost. The Seanad has sent a very strong signal that they want the Irish Government to publicly support a TRIPS waiver and to show genuine commitment to human rights by calling on the European Commission to support a TRIPS waiver at the next WTO meeting.”

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Emergencies don't stop during the COVID-19 crisis

Here’s a brief update on some of the emergency work Oxfam supporters made possible this year.

Since March 2020 Oxfam has worked to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and support people’s basic food needs and livelihoods. During this time, we also advocated for a mass-produced, fairly distributed coronavirus vaccine that is available to every individual, rich and poor alike: a People’s Vaccine.

In India in April and May 2021 the Delta variant of the disease spread through the country, affecting our partners, Oxfam staff, and millions of others. Oxfam India was already providing cash, food, and hand-washing stations for migrant laborers stuck without money, housing, food, or transport options. As the Delta variant surged, Oxfam continued to provide food (more than half a million rations and food packs) and hygiene items to people, while also delivering medical equipment to more than 100 hospitals and health centers, including gas cylinders, beds, and protective equipment. We also advocated for the government to help migrant workers returning to home villages with no jobs, and to reduce the vulnerability of women to domestic violence. Oxfam is active in 16 Indian states.

Ongoing Emergencies

In the meantime, Oxfam has also continued its response to humanitarian emergencies all over the globe, work made even more difficult owing to increased costs, prevention measures that limit staff movements, and the threat of infection. More than half of the people Oxfam is helping are women and girls, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID.

The UN estimates there are more than 1 million people seeking safety in and around Marib, Yemen. Kaff Media / Oxfam


Yemen: Oxfam has assisted three million people affected by the war in Yemen since 2015, providing water and sanitation assistance, cash, and food. This past year, fighting in the area around Marib has displaced more than a million people (75 percent of whom are women and children), who now seek shelter in camps in areas prone to flooding and sandstorms. Oxfam has assisted 14,000 people in Marib, delivering cash to more than 2,000 families and dislodging 55,000 litres of sewage from latrines each day.

Ethiopia: Since conflict broke out in the northern Tigray region in November 2020, Oxfam has been providing water, sanitation, and hygiene items to people displaced by fighting. Oxfam is calling on all parties to observe a cease-fire, prioritize the safety of civilians, re-establish public services, and grant aid agencies unconditional and safe access to help those at risk of severe hunger. So far, Oxfam and partners have reached nearly 85,000 people, and plan to assist 400,000.

Bangladesh: Since Rohingya Muslims fleeing violence came over the border from Myanmar in 2017, Oxfam and partners in Bangladesh have been assisting people living in extremely overcrowded conditions. Expanding on our mission to provide clean water and sanitation, Oxfam and its local partners stepped up hygiene promotion starting in 2020. We also produced clean water for more than 20,000 people who survived a fire in one section of the Kutupalong refugee camp in April 2021. When heavy rains in July flooded water treatment systems and latrines, Oxfam made repairs and distributed hygiene kits.

Sudden Emergencies

Oxfam and key local groups we collaborate with still must help people when conflict, storms, earthquakes, and other sudden disasters hit, even when assets and resources are already committed to long-term programs. Here are just a couple of examples:

Beirut: In August 2020, a warehouse storing ammonium nitrate in Beirut’s port exploded and killed more than 200 people, injured 7,000, and displaced 300,000. Oxfam, already committed to assisting Syrian refugees and host communities in eastern Lebanon, turned to the capital city and recruited 11 new partner organizations to provide cash, food, reconstruction assistance, and other help for vulnerable disabled people, women, and LGBTQ people affected by the blast. Oxfam’s partners continue to assist more than 10,000 people as they recover from the explosion amid the political and economic collapse in Lebanon.

An Oxfam volunteer hands out water purification tablets after heavy monsoon rains in southeast Bangladesh damaged Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, and displaced families. Shaikh Ashraf Ali/Oxfam


Gaza: In May 2021 rocket attacks and shelling in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel led to widespread damage in Gaza. Bombing reduced entire apartment blocks to rubble, destroyed roads, knocked out water and power systems, and damaged clinics and schools. Nearly 450,000 people in Gaza needed humanitarian assistance, and more than 100,000 people were displaced. When it was safe enough to do so, Oxfam worked with local aid groups in Gaza to provide blankets and mattresses, hygiene items, and the chemicals needed to operate three sea water desalination plants that provide drinking water for 400,000 people. Oxfam also provided cash to farming families to help them restart their work, and we plan to repair water and sanitation systems at 19 schools.

These are just a few of the crises Oxfam is working on in collaboration with local groups. Contributions from people like you are making this work possible, and we thank you for your support.

You can help people survive COVID-19 and other humanitarian emergencies while continuing programs to end inequality and poverty.

How toilets fight poverty

Abul uses the newly constructed Oxfam latrine near his home in Balukhali Camp, Bangladesh. “We used to go far away around the bushes to the toilet,” he says. “At night I went with my friends, but I was scared. Now we have a clean latrine next to our house and I’m not scared anymore." Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Safe water, good hygiene, and improved sanitation save lives

Whether in an emergency like the pandemic, or for everyday use at home or at school, toilets are essential. Yet, according to the UN, more than 4.6 billion people don’t have a proper toilet.

Living in a world without decent toilets (especially ones connected to a system that safely handles waste) puts people at risk of disease, pollutes the environment, and discourages girls from attending school. Globally, at least 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with feces.

That’s why Oxfam provides toilets, clean water, and encourages good hygiene practices in the wake of natural disasters and other emergencies, and works with communities to build decent latrines and proper sanitation systems for everyday use. Safe water, good hygiene, and improved sanitation can save as many as 842,000 lives per year, according to the UN. Toilets can actually save lives!

See for yourself the difference toilets make, every day and in emergencies. 

Toilets and Clean Water: Overlooked Essentials

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Vaccines for just one in eight people delivered to Sub-Saharan Africa

Oxfam Ireland, as part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, today (06.12.2021), marked the one-year anniversary of Northern Ireland grandmother Margaret Keenan becoming the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, by publishing data on the vaccine doses delivered to countries across the world.

The data provides a stark comparison on the access to vaccines for countries across the world, with Sub-Saharan Africa having received only enough doses to vaccinate 1 in 8 people.

On an individual country level, Democratic Republic of the Congo for example has received enough doses to vaccinate just one percent of the country’s population, in contrast to wealthy countries like Ireland where the entire population is almost fully vaccinated and booster campaigns are well underway.

The World Health Organisation recently highlighted that six times more booster shots are being administered daily around the globe than primary doses in low-income countries.

Vaccine Inequity Contributing to Emergence of Covid-19 Variants

On highlighting the new data, the development agency has reiterated its condemnation of the Irish Government and European Commission for their continued efforts to block the TRIPS Waiver on Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments at World Trade Organisation talks.

The temporary waiver would suspend patent rules on these products and enable increased production of Covid-19 vaccines, increasing access in low- and middle-income countries.  

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland CEO commented today: “Vaccine inequity has created the perfect breeding ground for new variants such as Omicron. This should be a wake-up call.

"We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past 21 months. With Norway becoming the latest country to support the TRIPS waiver just last week, we now need Ireland and the EU to chart a new path forward. They must step up and insist the pharmaceutical companies start sharing their science and technology with qualified manufacturers around the world, so we can vaccinate people in all countries and finally end this pandemic.

“It’s shameful that, according to the World Health Organisation, six times more booster shots are being administered daily around the globe than primary doses in low-income countries. We should not forget that the new Omicron variant was first discovered by scientists in countries which have been denied the right to produce their own vaccines.”

Oxfam Demands for Irish Government

Oxfam Ireland has also published a list of demands calling on the Irish Government and the European Commission to:

  • Ensure immediate approval of the waiving of intellectual property rules through a TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organisation, to end the monopoly control of pharmaceutical firms over COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. The World Trade Organization (WHO) General Council must urgently reconvene now, not next year, to approve this waiver.
  • Endorse and support the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to facilitate the sharing of knowledge by pharmaceutical companies to increase vaccine production.
  • Declare all vaccines, including new versions of vaccines designed to combat the Omicron variant ‘global public goods’, and share vaccine recipes openly with producers worldwide via the World Health Organisation.

Oxfam Ireland along with the People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland has also written to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment asking for a review of Ireland and the EU’s opposition to the TRIPS waiver, with input from international experts. The waiver comes under the trade function of this committee.

Mr. Clarken continued: “Business as usual has led to huge profits for pharmaceutical firms, but many people left unvaccinated, meaning that this virus continues to mutate. It is the definition of madness to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome. We need to press reset.

 “Fighting to buy up limited supplies of hugely expensive vaccines to protect our own citizens whilst ignoring the rest of the world will only lead to more variants, more mutations, more restrictions and more lives lost.

“With the new threat of the Omicron variant, it is clear that we cannot just booster our way out of the pandemic while leaving much of the developing world behind. Unless all countries are vaccinated as soon as possible, we could see wave after wave of variants.

“What is the point in developing new vaccines in 100 days if they are then only sold in limited amounts to the highest bidder, once again leaving poor nations at the back of the queue?”

The People’s Vaccine Alliance of which Oxfam is a co-founder has created a virtual memorial wall will be revealed at www.peoplesvaccine.org/memorial-wall on Wednesday, 8th December, marking a year since the first vaccine was administered.

Failure to support TRIPS waiver could “surrender the world to a prolonged pandemic”


The People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland co-founded by Oxfam Ireland today accused Ireland and the EU of supporting a “a rich country stitch-up” at ongoing World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks that will decide the future of Covid-19 vaccine production. The EU, supported by Ireland, are continuing to block the demands of South Africa, India and over 100 other nations to temporarily waive intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.

Just last week, the South African President reiterated this call ahead of the WTO meeting. The waiver, which would significantly increase production of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments across the world was discussed at the WTO TRIPS Council on this week.

To highlight Ireland and EU’s continued stance against vaccine equity, campaigners from Oxfam Ireland along with Amnesty International Ireland, Trocaire, Doctors for Vaccine Equity, ICCL, Christian Aid and the Access to Medicines Ireland group, as part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, staged a demonstration at Leinster House, today.


Speaking today about the ongoing WTO talks, CEO of Oxfam Ireland Jim Clarken said: “The heavily mutated new Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa last week, is clear evidence that the only way to end the pandemic is to vaccinate the whole world. The global vaccine inequity created by rich countries and western pharmaceutical companies has helped to enable the conditions necessary for this kind of deadly mutation to thrive.

“Rather than granting developing countries manufacturing rights and ensuring people get vaccinated to cut-off new variants, the People’s Vaccine Alliance in Ireland says the best response they can muster is to put up walls to a variant they have allowed to develop.”

At current rates, just 8% of people in low-income countries will have received at least one dose by the end of this year. This compares to 76% for high-income countries.

In Ireland, more than 400 leading scientists and medical professionals, including Prof Kingston Mills, Prof Sam McConkey and Prof Luke O’Neill, have signed a public statement urging the Irish Government to support the generic production of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to address global vaccine inequity. The call has been coordinated by People’s Vaccine Alliance in Ireland with Oxfam Ireland a leading member.


Mr Clarken continued: “The Covid-19 pandemic has killed at least five million people and impoverished hundreds of millions more. Without access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, many more will die in low- and middle-income countries purely to ensure the profits of pharmaceutical companies.

“Intellectual property rules have created an artificial scarcity of vaccines and treatments, leading to low vaccine coverage in developing countries. And that has helped to create the ideal conditions for the emergence of dangerous new variants that could put everyone, everywhere at risk once again. This is not just an ethical debate. As well as being the right thing to do, ensuring global access for all to vaccines, life-saving therapeutics, diagnostics and other medical tools is the only way to end the pandemic. Without generic vaccine production, we will continue to see variants emerge, which may be vaccine resistant and place us all at risk.”

Scientific and medical experts call on Government to commit to addressing global vaccine inequity

More than 350 leading scientists and medical professionals to date have signed a public statement urging the Irish Government to support the generic production of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to address global vaccine inequity.

The statement published today (17.11.21) comes just 14 days before the World Trade Organisation (WTO) will decide upon the proposal to suspend intellectual property (IP) rights for vaccines, diagnostics and treatment of Covid 19 (TRIPS Waiver).

The call is being issued to coincide with an event today with leading Irish and international experts organised by Oxfam Ireland, Amnesty International Ireland, Doctors for Vaccine Equity and the Irish Global Health Network as part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance in Ireland.

The public statement is calling for four actions to be taken by the Irish Government and the international community.

Key Actions for Global Vaccine Equity

Signatories of the public statement, including Professor Kingston Mills, Professor Sam McConkey, Professor Cliona Ni Cheallaigh, and Professor Luke O’Neill, are calling on the government to commit to four specific actions:

  1. Support the TRIPS waiver to allow vaccine production in low- and middle-income countries as a sustainable solution.
  2. Ensure vaccine makers facilitate the open sharing of know-how and tech transfer to all relevant vaccine producers to increase vaccine production. This should be done through the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID Technology Access Pool (C-TAP).
  3. Facilitate urgent global redistribution of current vaccine supplies and commit to rational purchasing to avoid vaccine hoarding and wastage.
  4. Ensure that any strategy for booster vaccines is evidence based and ethical within a global context.

The statement calls for the distribution of vaccines to be based upon public health need rather than commercial gain, hence the proposal to the WTO to suspend IP rights temporarily on Covid 19 related health technologies. According to the signatories, Ireland could have an immediate short-term impact by redistributing surplus vaccines.

To date, less than one percent of all manufactured vaccine doses have gone to low-income countries

Human Rights Issue

Speaking today on the launch of the statement, CEO of Oxfam Ireland Jim Clarken said: “We are all acutely aware of the extraordinary scientific effort, heavily supported by public funding, that brought a number of vaccines into being in the shortest time in history and the positive impact they are having here at home.

“However, in many parts of the world it may be years before populations are vaccinated. The unwillingness to waive patents, as a temporary measure, is costing lives and livelihoods, and will ensure that this pandemic lasts far longer and causes far more human suffering and economic damage than it already has. This is a human rights issue and a completely unacceptable situation given that we have the knowledge required to protect millions of people.

“The western world is now moving to booster campaigns for the vaccinated, yet billions of vulnerable people are yet to receive a first dose. Western countries are once again hoarding vaccines at the expense of poorer countries. But this does not have to be a discussion on who the vaccines being produced are given to. Rather, waiving patents would dramatically boost global production and supply of lifesaving vaccines, treatments, tests and other health tools - for everyone, everywhere.

“We are calling on the Government today to support the TRIPS waiver at ongoing World Trade Organisation negotiations, and to effectively and efficiently redistribute the huge quantity of surplus vaccines with have access to over the coming months.

Also commenting on launch of the statement was Professor Clíona Ní Cheallaigh, Consultant in Infectious Diseases at St James’s Hospital and Associate Professor at TCD who said: “Our experience with HIV clearly demonstrated that we cannot ignore disease prevention and control in the Global South without it impacting on disease control and prevention in the Global North.

“We urgently need to share the know-how, reagents and technology needed for production of COVID vaccines with many companies in the Global South who are ready and willing to produce vaccines. Until we do this, we will continue to face new variants and we, as well as those living in the Global South, will be facing the consequences of protecting the financial returns of vaccine companies at the expense of human lives for years to come.”

Please see the following for the full public statement and full list of medical and scientific expert signatories

 

COVID-19 recovery in West Africa is “austerity on steroids” and sets the region on a destructive path ahead

 

Austerity, spiraling debt and vaccine inequity will bring the inequality crisis to levels never reached before, reveals new index.

West African governments are planning to “slash and burn” their way out of COVID-19 induced economic loss, reveals new analysis from Oxfam and Development Finance International (DFI) today. The organizations are calling for an urgent change of course as West African governments are preparing their annual budgets and participating in the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF, which are crucial discussions to focus the recovery on fighting inequality and poverty.

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRII) shows that 14 out of 16 West African nations intend to cut their national budgets by a combined $26.8 billion over the next five years in an effort to partly plug the $48.7 billion lost in 2020 alone across the entire region due to the pandemic. Such austerity has been encouraged by the IMF, through its COVID-19 loans. 

This massive raid on public finances could push millions more West Africans into poverty and hunger and potentially trigger the worst inequality crisis in decades.  Women will be impacted more severely due to their very high concentration in low paid informal jobs and unpaid care work.  Meanwhile, the collective net worth of West Africa’s three wealthiest men surged by $6.4 billion in the first 17 months of the pandemic ―enough to lift 18 million people out of extreme poverty.

This plan is austerity on steroids. Rather than investing toward a positive new future for the people of West Africa, the region’s governments are instead reaching back to a 1980s playbook ―despite it being a hugely discredited one. The danger is that these governments will cut their way into worsening poverty and skyrocketing inequality.

This comes at a time when the region has lost the equivalent of seven million jobs, infection rates are increasing, there is no vaccine in sight for the vast majority of people and the Sahel is facing one of its worst hunger crisis. This is not the time for governments to be ripping away the public goods, support and services that millions of people need.

The index ranks 15 member states of the Economic Community of West African States and Mauritania (ECOWAS+) on their policies on public services, tax, workers’ rights, smallholder agriculture and pandemic response spending, all areas pivotal to reducing inequality and weathering the COVID-19 storm. 

The index highlights that West African governments are again the least committed to reducing inequality in Africa. Most support measures in response to COVID-19 were temporary and did little to reduce inequality, while triggering a sharp increase in debt ―debt servicing in 2020-2021 will siphon off about 61.7 percent of government revenue in West Africa. The support programs have been replaced with austerity measures as COVID-19 infection rates are increasing in many countries of the region. Less than 4 percent of West Africans are fully vaccinated.

Sierra Leone ranks low (13th) on the index. Its government was trying to implement anti-inequality policies before COVID and sharply increased education and health spending. But large corporations pocketed 92 percent of government pandemic support funding, while only 1.5 percent was spent on social protection. Sierra Leone’s $860 million upcoming spending cuts (2022-26) are equivalent to two and a half times its annual healthcare budget.

Nigeria was the region’s worst performing country in tackling inequality going into the pandemic. Nigeria’s health budget (as a percentage of its overall budget) is the third lowest in the world (3.6 percent) and 40 percent of its population does not have access to healthcare services. Nigeria loses $2.9 billion a year from tax incentives to corporations but in 2021 increased value-added taxes (VAT), which apply to everyday products like food and clothing and fall disproportionately on poor people, from 5 percent to 7.5 percent.

Mali has the highest level of income equality among ECOWAS countries with a tax rate on the richest people that is 9% higher than the world average. But it ranks last on healthcare spending, devoting less than 5 percent of its annual budget on health. Nearly 38 percent of Mali’s population (8 million people) have no access to healthcare and 6.5 percent of households face catastrophic healthcare costs spending each year. Women’s labor rights are often not respected and they lack legal protection from marital rape and sexual harassment. Mali plans to slash its budget by $3.3 billion over the next five years.

Burkina Faso ranks middle (9th) on the Index. It spends nearly 23% of its budget on education, the highest share in the region and 9th in the world. But the wealthiest 20% of the population has 44% of the income, and in rural areas, 47.5% of the population lives in poverty. According to the IMF, such a level of inequality reduces Gross National Product growth by at least 1% per year. The government plans to cut $1.27 billion through 2026.

If the governments of West Africa were to increase fairly their tax revenue by 1 percent in the next five years, they would raise $56.89 billion. This is more than enough to cancel the planned $26.8 billion budget cuts and build 600 fully-equipped hospitals across West Africa.

West Africa is at a crossroads. Will the region come out of COVID-19 with policies which exacerbate inequality, or implement a recovery plan that works for everyone and not only for the privileged few?

The pandemic has taught us it is urgent to invest massively in public education, health and social protection and to use more progressive taxation of income and wealth to pay for this. We also need to increase worker’s rights ― especially for women who disproportionately take on the most precarious jobs.

Oxfam and DFI published in 2019 the first “West African Commitment to Reduce Inequality (CRI) index” showing that West African governments were the least engaged across the continent in reducing inequality.

Download “Adding Fuel to Fire: How IMF Demands for Austerity Will Drive Up Inequality Around the World” for more in-depth analysis on austerity measures encouraged by the IMF through its COVID-19 loans. Between March 1, 2020 and March 15, 2021, all countries in West Africa received IMF emergency support to respond to the pandemic through various types of loans. For more information on austerity measures encouraged in the loans received by West African countries refer to Annex 1 and Annex 2 of the report.

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