Inequality

  • The widening gap between the world’s richest and poorest people is tearing societies apart. Too many still toil in extreme poverty. In contrast, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, who can use it to capture disproportionate power to shape the future. The widening gap between the richest and poorest is damaging economies and pushing more people into poverty. There are practical ways to close the gap.

Here’s a dose of reality – Big Pharma and wealthy nations have delivered just 14% of Covid vaccines promised to low-income countries

21 October 2021

Wealthy nations and Big Pharma have failed to donate billions of doses they pledged to developing countries while continuing to block solutions to vaccine inequality, the global People’s Vaccine Alliance has found.

In its new report, A Dose of Reality, it reveals that of the 1.8 billion Covid-19 vaccine donations pledged by developed nations, just 261 million doses – or 14 percent – have been delivered so far. Moreover, western pharmaceutical companies have delivered just 12 percent of the doses they allocated to COVAX, the initiative designed to help low- and middle-income countries get fair access to vaccines.

Closer to home, Ireland has donated just 335,500 (26 percent) of the 1.3 million vaccines it promised to low-income countries.  The EU – including Ireland – has so far refused to support the proposal by more than 100 nations to waive patents on vaccines and Covid-related technologies, while major pharmaceutical companies have failed to share their technology with the World Health Organisation (WHO) so that developing countries can make their own life-saving vaccines.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said: “Developed nations like Ireland and pharmaceutical companies are shamefully failing to deliver on their promises while blocking the actual solution; ensuring developing nations have the ability to make their own vaccines.

It is painfully clear that the developing world cannot rely on the largesse and charity of developed nations and pharmaceutical companies, and hundreds of thousands of people are dying from Covid-19 as a result. It should be clear by now that we can’t donate our way out of this pandemic.

A Dose of Reality outlines that of the 994 million doses allocated to COVAX by Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Oxford/AstraZeneca, and Pfizer/BioNTech, just 120 million (12 percent) have been delivered. This equates to 15 times less than the 1.8 billion doses delivered to rich countries by these same companies.

Neither Johnson & Johnson nor Moderna have yet delivered a single dose.

Mr Clarken added: “The failure of rich country donations and the failure of COVAX have the same root cause – we have given over control of vaccine supply to a small number of pharmaceutical companies who are prioritising their own profits.

These companies can’t produce enough to vaccinate the world, they are artificially constraining the supply, and they will always put their rich customers at the front of the line. The only way to end the pandemic is to share the technology and know-how with other qualified manufacturers so that everyone, everywhere can have access to these lifesaving vaccines.

Collectively, the four companies claimed they would manufacture an estimated 7.5 billion vaccines in 2021. However, with less than three months until the end of the year, they have delivered just half this number. Forecasts suggest the companies will produce 6.2 billion vaccines by the end of the year, a 1.3 billion shortfall on their projections.

Jim Clarken said: “Across the world, health workers are dying and children are losing parents and grandparents. With 99 percent of people in low-income countries still not vaccinated, we have had enough of these too little, too late gestures. Governments must stop allowing pharmaceutical companies to play god while raking in astronomical profits and start delivering actual action that will save lives.”

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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.

A different attitude towards waste in Jordan

The saying goes "One person's trash is another person's treasure". Well, maybe not a treasure in this case but "an opportunity to provide for my family" as described by Om Ghazi.

Om Ghazi, a 38-year-old Jordanian mother, is one of the people we work with from Oxfam's "Improving livelihoods through green jobs project" implemented in the host community in Mafraq, 70km northeast of the Jordanian capital Amman.

Om Ghazi, along with 200 other Syrian and vulnerable Jordanians are given green job opportunities, where individuals collect recyclable materials from their surroundings. The collected material is then transferred to a nearby facility to be sorted, processed, and recycled to be reused in local and international markets.

Om Ghazi at her home, Al-Khaldeyah-Mafraq

Waste collection was never considered to be a stable job in this area. However, the economic situation substantiated in rising unemployment and poverty rates drove people to "cling on to any opportunity that comes their way," says 23-year-old Muath, another beneficiary of the project.

"People around here are desperate for an opportunity, they want to work but only a few find jobs," added Muath.

Muath at the backyard of his home. Al-Khaldeyah-Mafraq
Recycled materials sorted at the recycling facility. Mafraq/Jordan

 

Mafraq is Jordan's second largest governorate, it neighbors the Syrian borders and has seen a massive influx of Syrian refugees who resided there following a decade long war. This posed immense pressure on municipal services such as solid waste management.

Oxfam's project is designed to promote awareness of sound environmental practices while creating green jobs for vulnerable Jordanians and Syrians and supporting municipalities and host communities to better manage solid waste through an 800 square meter facility recycling plastic, cardboard, e-waste, and metals

Plastic waste sorted at the recycling facility. Mafraq/Jordan

Wafa, 39, a single mother of four, joined the program in July 2021 and started collecting recyclable materials from her surroundings in Khalideh-Mafraq. Little did she know that she would become an environmental champion within her community.

"I was oblivious to the applications of recycling, but I learned and received the knowledge and know-how on basic recycling methods. I learned how to make use of my household recyclables, and I now share this knowledge with my neighbors and friends,” said Wafa’a.

Wafa’a continued saying “my children are proud of what I do, and I am proud to be part of this environmental movement.”

Most participants battle a culture that undermines their ambitions, goals, careers, and motives dubbed in Jordan as the "culture of shame."

My eldest son -18 years old- and I usually stroll and collect cardboard from the nearby markets. At first, he used to tell me about the 'odd looks and comments from his peers' and so did I, but I grew past that because I believe that there is no shame in work," said Om Faisal, a mother of five.

6% of all green jobs provided through the project were allocated for people with disabilities who remain among the most vulnerable segments.

22-year-old Yusra, has speech and hearing impairment, but she maintains an active role in her community. She sat down with Oxfam staff to describe her experience.She signed her words as her father translated.

"I applied and after a couple of weeks I was told that I was accepted, it made me feel happy to have a role, to help and take part," signed Yusra as her father translated. The repercussions of the pandemic are most felt by the less fortunate, as they continue to battle new challenges in light of shrinking opportunities. To most, waste collection was never an option, but for some, it is an opportunity today and it "happens to make things better and cleaner around us," added Om Ghazi.

The project partnered with different grassroots and community-based organizations to raise awareness and engagement regarding recycling and upcycling."Yes, we live in a poor area, but it is rich with compassion, everyone helps around here, some would keep the recyclable material aside for me to collect later, I think it is because they saw the impact on the community," ended Om Ghazi.

Oxfam, funded by the Australian Aid (DFAT) continues to support Syrians and Jordanians in host communities to better their surrounding while providing green job opportunities and skills training helping them achieve self-sustainability. 

Vaccine monopolies are increasing the cost of vaccinating the world against Covid

Published: July 29th 2021

Homepage image by: Nataliya Vaitkevich

In a briefing note published today, The Global People’s Vaccine Alliance highlighted examples of how just much both developing and wealthier nations have been potentially overpaying for Covid-19 vaccines.

  • The EU may have overpaid for their 1.96 billion Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines by as much as €31 billion.
  • Pfizer/ BioNTech are charging their lowest reported price of €5.72 to the African Union but this is still nearly 6 times more than the estimated potential production cost of this vaccine.
  • Colombia, which has been badly affected by Covid, has been paying double the price paid by the US for Moderna vaccines.

The cost of vaccinating the world against Covid-19 could be at least five times cheaper if pharmaceutical companies weren’t profiteering from their monopolies on vaccines.

New analysis by the Global People’s Vaccine Alliance shows that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have been charging governments as much as €34.7 billion above the estimated cost of production!

So, despite the rapid rise in Covid cases and deaths we are witnessing across the world, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have been charging up to 24 times the potential cost of production, and they have sold over 90 percent of their vaccines so far to rich countries only… join the dots?

It is true that just last week Pfizer/BioNTech announced it would licence a South African company to fill and package 100 million Covid-19 vaccines doses for use in Africa, but this is a tiny drop in the ocean of incredible need.

Neither company has agreed to fully transfer vaccine technology and know-how with any capable producers in developing countries, a move that could increase global supply, drive down prices and save millions of lives.

The Alliance’s analysis of the vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – which had an injection of public funding to the tune of €7 billion by the way – suggests these vaccines could be made for as little as €1 a dose.

In response to the analysis, our Chief Executive Jim Clarken, said:

Pharmaceutical companies are holding the world to ransom at a time of unprecedented global crisis. This is perhaps one of the most lethal cases of profiteering in history.

Budgets that could be used for building more health facilities in low-income countries are instead being raided by CEOs and shareholders of these all-powerful corporations.

The Alliance says it is vital that vaccine manufacturers are forced to justify why their vaccines cost more, but says that open competition is also vital to bring down prices and increase supply.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance, both here in Ireland and globally, is calling on all governments to insist that the vaccine technology is transferred – to enable all qualified manufacturers worldwide, especially those in developing countries, to produce these vaccines. Governments should also urgently approve a waiver of intellectual property rules related to Covid-19 technologies as proposed by South Africa and India.

The waiver, which has been supported by over 100 nations including the US and France has been repeatedly blocked by the European Union – and Ireland.

Maaza Seyoum, from the African Alliance and People’s Vaccine Alliance Africa, said:

What possible reason then do the governments of the EU have to ignore the repeated calls from developing countries to break the vaccine monopolies that could drive up production while driving down price?

Enabling developing country manufacturers to produce vaccines is the fastest and surest way to ramp up supply and dramatically drive down prices. When this was done for HIV treatment, we saw prices drop by up to 99 percent.

As Irelands reaches the milestone of 70 percent of its adult population being fully vaccinated, less than one percent of people in low-income countries have received a vaccine, while the profits made by the companies has seen the CEOs become billionaires.

Will you take action for a #PeoplesVaccine today?

Help us put the pressure on by asking your TDs to call on our political leaders to meet with Members of the People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland as a matter of urgency.

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