• 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.

Oxfam Ireland urge Irish government to tackle big pharma and end vaccine inequity

Just 13% of people in low-income countries have received two vaccine doses, compared to 75% of people in high-income countries, this is translating into a huge death toll… It’s time Ireland supported the TRIPS waiver, helped save millions of lives and put an end to this pandemic. 


Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland CEO | Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment May 11 2022

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This was Oxfam Ireland CEO Jim Clarken’s rallying call to the members of the Oireachtas committee on enterprise, trade and employment on Wednesday the 11th of May. He was speaking as part of People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland delegation, on the issue of vaccine inequity, and why the committee should recommend that the Irish Government support the temporary waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics (known as the TRIPS waiver).

Jim Clarken made this argument in the context of the huge profits that the pharmaceutical industry have made from COVID-19 vaccines:

The reality of it is that Pharma has never seen profits like they’ve seen in the last few years, many new billionaires have been created in the pharma industry

Jim Clarken appeared alongside Professor Aisling McMahon of Maynooth University and Access to Medicines Ireland, Dimitri Eynikel of Médecins Sans Frontières and Dr. Christine Kelly, a consultant in infectious diseases who represented Doctors for Vaccine Equity.

Prof. McMahon outlined how the main effect of a waiver would be to allow low-income countries to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights so entities within those countries could produce generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines, medicines or diagnostics without States facing the threat of sanctions.

Prof. Aisling McMahon, Maynooth University | Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, May 11

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Dr. Kelly provided startling statistics on vaccine inequity and the effect on frontline healthcare workers: ‘there are still many countries with vaccination rates less than 10% and we know that WHO guidance is that you need to vaccinate 10% of your population to cover the most vulnerable people. For me, this hits particularly hard because as a healthcare worker I know how difficult it is to treat people when you haven’t been vaccinated.’

Dr. Christine Kelly, St. Vincent’s University Hospital | Committee on Enterprise, Trade & Employment

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And Dimitri Eynikel, outlined the devastating impact a vaccine resistant variant will have if a TRIPS waiver isn’t implemented: ‘Are we prepared for a potential next wave, are we prepared for new inequities, when new more portent vaccines, adapted to new variants will arrive. We’re not there, we’re going to have the same inequity all over again if we don’t address the structural issues.’ We can’t expect developing countries to fight today's virus with yesterday's tools.

Dimitri Eynikel, MSF Access | Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment

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The need for change was made most clear when Jim Clarken quoted Wilfred Gurupira, an academic in Zimbabwe: ‘it’s one thing losing those you love to a pandemic where there’s nothing that can be done. But it’s quite another, losing people when you know there was something that could be done to help them, but you can’t access it.’

You can watch the full hearing here.

To keep the momentum going in the run up to the all-important WTO meeting in June, the People’s Vaccine Alliance is organising an online conference about COVID-19 vaccine inequity on the 2nd of June (10am-12pm). Speakers will include Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, leader of The Civil Engagement Group in Seanad Éireann, & Dr. Luke McDonagh Assistant Professor at the London School of Economics researching Intellectual Property & Public Law, with details of further speakers to follow.

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Two years of COVID-19 What Oxfam has been doing

Shahida Akter Lucky, a 25-year-old unemployed domestic worker living in Dhaka, stands in line with her eight-month-old son at a food distribution carried out by Oxfam partner Nari Maitree. Photo: Fabeha Monir / Oxfam

Oxfam’s global response to the coronavirus pandemic has reached across the world to help people survive, while also advocating for a People’s Vaccine.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Nairobi, Kenya, in March 2020, Ann Gakenia Muthungu immediately understood the life-and-death implications. The 69-year-old single mother and grandmother knew that on top of the risk of sickness and death from coronavirus, complying with government mandates to stay home meant people like her wouldn’t be able to earn income for food.

“How can we stay at home without food? We cannot live in the house,” she predicted. “You will die in the house.”

Oxfam worked with partners in Kenya and 68 other countries to provide cash for families locked down without income or food to meet their basic needs, information about the pandemic they can use to stay safe, as well as soap and protective equipment.

In 2020, Oxfam assisted more than 14 million people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are continuing to help people around the world make a decent living during the pandemic, survive disasters and conflict and climate change shocks, while also advocating for more and better access to safe, affordable COVID-19 vaccines.

Hunger and the coronavirus

The implications of COVID-19 on access to food for impoverished communities was immediately evident in 2020. Farmers, traders, retailers, and consumers all faced challenges, particularly in areas where the poorest people lack any savings or food reserves.

People living in areas affected by conflict-such as Yemen, parts of West Africa, South Sudan, and Ethiopia--continue to be the most vulnerable, as some areas are on the edge of famine. In parts of the Horn of Africa, a combination of drought, flood, and even locusts have killed off livestock and crops.

By mid-2021, Oxfam estimated that 155 million people in 55 countries had been pushed into extreme levels of food insecurity, and that more than half a million were living in famine-like conditions – a six-fold increase in just a year.


Oxfam distributed 500 hygiene kits (containing soap and other items to help people keep clean), along with information about how to minimise risk to COVID-19, to families in Salahaddin, Iraq, in 2020. Photo: Oxfam

Oxfam and our partners distributed cash to families in areas with functioning markets so they could buy food, soap, and meet other basic needs during the pandemic. In other areas, we helped farmers with seeds, fertilizer, and training on growing drought-resistant food crops in places like Central America’s Dry Corridor.

Women bear the brunt of the pandemic

When the pandemic hit in 2020, it was clear it would hit men and women differently. Since then, statistics show that women suffered higher rates of job loss (5 percent for women, 3.9 percent for men). Oxfam’s research indicates this cost women globally $800 billion in lost income from 2020 to mid-2021.

When schools closed, and family members got sick, women and girls took up the additional unpaid care work at home. This is yet another factor in the increasing pandemic-driven economic inequality in the world.

And as many women found themselves stuck at home with abusive people, it increased the threat of gender-based violence, further discriminating against women.

In addition to distributing cash to families, Oxfam and our partners and allies also advocated for more and better support for families, such as a research and advocacy campaign in the Philippines that encouraged 28 towns and cities to provide day care services and improve roads connecting to markets.

Oxfam’s WE CARE campaign for women’s economic empowerment carried out research, waged campaigns, and held workshops to shine a light on the burden of women’s unpaid care work during the pandemic in Tajikistan, Ethiopia, and Kenya, just to name a few countries.

Oxfam staff Nikhil Wagh and Parmeshwar Patil deliveran oxygen concentrator to a hospital in Maharashtra state. Photo: Oxfam India

Public health crisis in India

When the coronavirus first hit India in 2020, Oxfam India worked with partners and government ministries on a massive effort to help the poorest people survive. Many were migrant workers at job sites far from home suddenly without work, food, or money. Oxfam provided cash, meals, protective masks, hand sanitizer, and hand washing facilities. At the request of local government officials, Oxfam also provided masks and hand sanitizer to hospital workers and police officers.

Since then, Oxfam has provided food to more than half a million people and distributed $409,000 in cash to 10,000 of the most vulnerable, including transgender people, sex workers, miners, survivors of domestic violence and cancer, weavers, fisherfolk, construction workers, and people affected by floods and cyclones.

When the Delta variant broke out in India in April and May 2021, Oxfam India built seven oxygen generating plants and distributed more than 13,000 pieces of lifesaving medical equipment such as oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, ventilators; more than 116,000 safety and personal protection kits; 9,929 pieces of diagnostic equipment such as thermometers and oximeters; and 20,000 testing kits in 16 states. We reached 479 hospitals and other health facilities.

Oxfam provided protective equipment, digital thermometers, and oxygen meters to 64,900 community health workers in nine states. “At the beginning [of the pandemic], we didn’t have any gloves or anything,” said one health worker in Uttar Pradesh said after a training workshop to learn how to use the new digital thermometers, and where she received masks and gloves

An affordable, accessible People’s Vaccine

As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, about six percent of people in poor countries have been vaccinated, while wealthier countries are hoarding vaccines, and parceling out just a few in donations. The result has been millions of unnecessary deaths, a steady parade of virus mutations, and more than two years of increasing inequality and suffering while the major pharmaceutical firms that created vaccines using public funds and taxpayer funded research rake in billions in profits. Four times as many people have died in low-income countries than in rich ones.

Oxfam immediately helped create the global People’s Vaccine Alliance to campaign and advocate for a patent-free, mass-produced, and fairly distributed vaccine available free of charge to everyone, rich and poor alike. This would allow more manufacturing of vaccines in more countries, leading to greater access and faster distribution.

Oxfam has called on companies to explore sharing their technology to boost manufacturing in low-income countries to make more vaccine available to more people, and save more lives.

The race against COVID-19

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In a region brought to its knees, inequality kills

In the Middle East and North Africa region, already one of the most unequal in the world, billionaires saw their wealth increase by 23% during the pandemic.
In the Middle East and North Africa region, already one of the most unequal in the world, billionaires saw their wealth increase by 23% during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Blog by Diana Kallas, Senior Inequality Policy Advisor - Oxfam in MENA

In the months after the pandemic was declared, Oxfam warned that huge and dangerous increases in inequality across the MENA region were likely.

Back then, in just a matter of months the region’s richest had amassed more wealth than the IMF and the UN combined had provided in aid for the coronavirus response. As we warned almost 45 million people were on the precipice of being pushed into poverty, the wealth of these elites has only climbed, lining their pockets at the expense of everybody else.

While last month the world’s leaders and elites gathered online for the Davos Agenda, discussing among other issues global social contracts and vaccine equity, this annual talk fest only paid lip services to the global good and hasn’t, so far, resulted in anything meaningful for the billions of people around the world who continue to lose out because of the inequalities translating into vaccine apartheid and gross disparities between rich and poor.

Pandemics are good for business

Almost two years on from the pandemic, the data is staggering. Not only has the chasm between the rich and the rest widened, but the small, powerful and exclusive club of millionaires and billionaires has grown. Their obscene wealth increased during the pandemic and so has their number. Pandemics are clearly good for business. In the Middle East and North Africa region, already one of the most unequal in the world, billionaires saw their wealth increase by 23% during the pandemic, while the bottom 90% of people saw their wealth drop in 2021.The 3 richest people (all of them men) own more wealth ($26,3bn) than the bottom 222,5 million MENA citizens ($25,5bn) combined. The number of people whose net worth was 5 million USD or more also in these countries increased by almost 40%, while in the entire nine years preceding the pandemic the increase was 24%. In Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, business was even better for the rich where there was a 39% combined percent increase in total wealth of millionaires and billionaires according to WealthX data. Moroccan billionaires saw their wealth triple during the pandemic.
This wealth does not trickle down to benefit others, and despite what they might argue to the contrary, these rich men are not contributing to their economies.

More rich people only means higher wealth concentration, more money in the hands of too few. Some of this increase could have gone into government coffers to help fund access to health care, education, sanitation systems, water and electricity.

Instead, because of a complete lack of reforms and governance to enable progressivity and redistribution, we saw more millionaires and billionaires as well as more people pushed into poverty, and more people dead from Covid because they couldn’t access the basic services they needed.

The MENA region needs a new, fair, and equitable economic model

Inequality kills, but it didn’t have to be this way. If governments had taxed the rich their fair share, and ensured those taxes worked to protect the most vulnerable and everyone in-between, the ramifications of the economic impact of the most recent pandemic crisis, in addition to decades of austerity measures that did little to improve the lives of ordinary people, could have been lessened.

If a progressive annual wealth tax was applied to the wealth of multimillionaires and billionaires in the region it would have generated US$ 79.3 billion a year, enough to increase public health spending across the region by half, or completely eliminate often unaffordable out of pocket health costs.  In Lebanon, a country in the throws of multiple crises, this would have allowed for a $1.1 billion USD annual increase to the government health budget.

The MENA region needs a new, real, social contract, and a new economic model where distribution of income and wealth is fair and equitable and where austerity is history. It needs redistributive policy measures that prevent the accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few and channel resources towards the good of society as a whole.

Inequality is not simply that some have more than others. Wealth that stays in the hands of the wealthy breeds societies where injustice is rife and public services and opportunities for those who need it most are inaccessible.

Inequality does and will continue to kill until we switch the game. Political and economic decision making must start working for the collective good, instead of the private interests of a few. It drives conflict, societal disintegration and hardship.

Until then, if we let the gap keep widening the inequalities it breeds will multiply just like the virus that keeps supercharging it, with disastrous consequences for all.

EU set to bin 25 million more vaccine doses than it has donated to Africa in 2022

February 16th 2022

The EU and Ireland have betrayed Africa by blocking proposals which would allow manufacturers on the continent to make their own COVID-19 vaccines while hoarding millions of doses set to expire at the end of the month, warns Oxfam.

Ahead of tomorrow’s meeting of African and European leaders at the AU-EU Summit, new analysis from Oxfam highlights how the EU will have to throw away 55 million doses of COVID vaccines by the end of February, significantly more than the 30 million doses they have donated to Africa so far in 2022. Ireland, who have not donated any vaccines to low-income countries so far this year, are throwing out hundreds of thousands of vaccines.

Despite the rhetoric of a special relationship with Africa, the EU – which is now the world’s biggest exporter of vaccines – has prioritised selling vaccines made on EU soil to rich nations and just eight per cent of its vaccine exports have gone to the African continent. The figures for Germany are even worse – just one per cent of vaccine exports from BioNTech, the German pharmaceutical company behind the Pfizer vaccine, have gone to Africa.

At the same time, EU member states, including Ireland, have been a major blocker of proposals tabled by South Africa and India and supported by the African Union and over 100 countries for an intellectual property waiver which would allow the generic production of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. Leaked drafts of the summit declaration show a divide between the EU and the AU, with the AU insisting language on the waiver is included. Last summer, French President Emmanuel Macron - who is hosting the AU-EU summit - announced his support for the waiver but has done little since to challenge the EU’s stance on it.

Jim Clarken CEO of Oxfam Ireland, said: “The European Commission said at the beginning of the pandemic that the vaccine should be a global public good. Instead, they have ensured it is a private profit opportunity, raking in billions for Big Pharma and the EU, while almost 9 out of 10 people in Africa aren’t fully vaccinated, two years into this deadly pandemic. This is shameful.”

“It is estimated that almost 7,000 people in Africa have died per day as a result of COVID-19 in 2022, a quarter of a million since the beginning of the year. Due to very low vaccine supplies, just 11 per cent of people on the continent have received their first two COVID-19 vaccines to date.”

The EU has made much of plans to support the set-up of vaccine factories in Africa under the monopoly control of European pharmaceutical corporations – but this still wouldn’t give countries autonomy on vaccine supplies produced. BioNTech recently announced plans to produce 50 million vaccines in Africa once fully operational, however, this is less than their factory in Germany produces each month.

Clarken said: “It is shameful that Ireland continues to support the EU’s policy of blocking African producers from making their own doses of COVID-19 vaccines. If there truly is a common agenda between the Unions, then the EU would stop putting the interests of pharmaceutical companies, who have reaped billions from the pandemic, ahead of African lives.

“These vaccines were publicly funded and the recipes should be shared with the world to allow all qualified producers to make these vital shots.”

The EU have contributed €3 billion in funding to COVAX, the initiative designed to help developing countries to access vaccine doses, but the scheme has now run out of funds after failing to reach its target of vaccinating 20 per cent of people in poorer countries by the end of 2021. Meanwhile, Germany alone has received €3.2 billion back in tax revenue from BioNTech.

Clarken concluded: "Ireland and the EU claim they are promoting a ‘prosperous partnership of equals’ with the African Union and yet they are dumping more vaccine doses than they are donating to Africa, while continuing to block a waiver on vaccine patents which would enable African countries to produce our own vaccines. What's equal about that?

“This vaccine apartheid - perpetuated by the EU and Ireland - has a brutal human cost. Livelihoods continue to be destroyed, economies are being shattered and health workers pushed beyond the brink.

“It is encouraging that the African Union is standing up to the EU and asking for a reference to the TRIPS waiver to be included in the Summit's outcome document. We need the TRIPS waiver now and the EU and Ireland must stop standing in the way.”