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Opportunity to ramp up production of lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines worldwide opposed by EU, again

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World Trade Organisation members (who met today for a council on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) have just agreed that they will engage in a text-based process on waiving Intellectual Property rules on Covid-19 vaccines, test and treatments. This means a deal, which would see a temporarily suspension of Intellectual Property, is increasingly likely. However, Europe and key governments are continuing to oppose.

In response, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “This move to text-based negotiations is good news, because it means all WTO member states acknowledge that pharmaceutical monopolies are blocking access to life saving vaccines for millions of people and that this needs to be addressed.

“However, it is shameful that in the midst of a pandemic it has taken eight long painful months and 2.7 million deaths from Covid-19 for a handful of wealthy country government blockers to finally agree to enter formal text-based negotiations on this life saving proposal.

“Despite rising infections and the lack of vaccine stock in Africa and other regions of the world, the EU with support from Ireland continues to side with a handful of pharmaceutical corporations in protecting their monopolies against the needs of people around the world.  

“It’s unforgivable that while some are literally fighting for breath and countries continue to be overwhelmed by new waves of the virus, our political leaders continue to oppose what could be a vital breakthrough in ending this pandemic for everyone in rich and poor countries alike.  

“Ireland and the EU should now follow countries like the US and New Zealand and more than 100 developing countries and end their opposition to the TRIPS waiver. Instead, they must work together to deliver urgently needed vaccines to the world.  

“In April, Minister Simon Coveney made favourable comments about the need to ensure that the protection of vaccine patents and intellectual property rights don’t undermine efforts to address the Covid-19 pandemic globally.   

“However, disappointingly, the Irish Government continues to oppose this important measure despite initial signals of support from senior Irish politicians. This is hugely regretful for the billions of unvaccinated people around the world because the reasons put forward by EU leaders to support their approach do not stand up to scrutiny, as we recently detailed in an op-ed.  

"We call on Ireland to end its support of the EU’s position and engage with fellow EU member states to reverse the EU's continued opposition to this essential intervention - that is supported by over 100 low-and middle-income countries.   

“They can do this by backing the TRIPs waiver at the WTO and by supporting the transfer of vaccine technology through the WHO’s Covid Technology Access Pool (C-TAP). More manufacturers are coming forward by the day from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Senegal, Denmark and Canada with offers to make vaccines but are now blocked from doing so.   

“While this proposal should not be seen as a 'magic bullet' to solve global vaccine supply issues it will go a long way to bringing as much vaccine production capacity online as is possible.    

“This opportunity to speed up and scale up the production of Covid-19 vaccines will save lives and livelihoods the world over.

“Oxfam Ireland — along with a number of other NGOs, faith organisations, trade unions, and medical organisations —have proposed that a relevant Oireachtas committee undertake a detailed review of Ireland’s position on the TRIPS waiver as a matter of urgency. As we begin to see the benefits of reaching herd immunity through mass vaccination, our government should not be standing in the way of the world’s poorest citizens being afforded the same access to life-saving medicine.”     

END 

Contact

Caroline Reid | Communications Manager | caroline.reid@oxfam.org

Notes to editors:

The TRIPS waiver proposal was first presented to the WTO on October 2, 2020. Since then to June 8, 2021, there have been a recorded 2.67 million deaths from Covid-19 worldwide.

WTO delegates agreed an urgent timetable to move negotiations forward ahead of the next General Council meeting in July.

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World Environment Day 2021: See how one farming community is defending itself against climate change

Sarah in her field in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. She has been farming for 25 years and in that time, changing weather patterns have affected her crop yields. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

One of the key messages of this year’s World Environment Day is that we cannot turn back time. We can, however, be the generation that makes peace with nature and make the kinds of changes that can not only ensure our survival, but that of our planet. As we prepare to mark World Environment Day this Saturday 5 May, we meet a farmer in Zimbabwe who reveals how an Oxfam initiative helped build resilience against the effects of changing rainfall patterns…

 

Sarah (55) is a farmer in Nyanyadzi, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. For nearly 25 years, her livelihood has been at the mercy of changing weather patterns, as shifting rainfall patterns have resulted in major fluctuations in her harvests.

Where we expect it to rain [in October or November], it doesn’t rain so what we have planted doesn’t grow well because the rain hasn’t come as expected.

In 2000, Tropical Cyclone Eline, one of the strongest storms to hit south-eastern Africa, damaged the main canals on the north bank of the Nyanyadzi River, which Sarah and her family rely on to irrigate their land.

“We woke up to a field full of sand with all the crops gone,” she says. After the storm, the canals were covered with silt. To gain access to water, farmers had to shovel the canals out.

Since then, people in Nyanyadzi have been vulnerable to weather extremes, from frequent heavy rain to prolonged drought. At times, Sarah says, she has gone a month and a half without water.

Sarah is a widow and the sole provider of income and care for her children. What her family eats comes from her fields, so if her harvest is damaged, they might not be able to eat.

Sarah checks the water level at the Nyanyadzi River. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

It’s not just the crops that are affected, I wake up every day and say that I am going to work so that I can send my children to school... While I am working, I will be hoping that the crops I plant grow well, so that my children can survive, go to school, and have something to eat.

Adapting agriculture practices that protect farmers from the harmful effects of climate change

In 2014, Oxfam and partner organisations implemented Scaling up Adaptation in Zimbabwe, a project to support rural farming communities and build climate resilience. Sarah and members of her community received lessons in water management and irrigation infrastructure, including training in gabion basket-making (gabions are structures that control erosion) and construction of gully plugs (small dams that help conserve soil moisture) and silt traps. This new set-up stopped silt from moving into canals.

Now, with the canals functioning as they should, Sarah can do her job. She points out that there were no breakdowns or water shortages this year.

Sarah sells her tomatoes at the market. Photo: Cynthia Matonhodze/Oxfam

When Cyclone Idai devastated southern Africa in 2019, Sarah was mostly spared. She lost some land when the Odzi River flooded, but she considers herself lucky compared to the damages to property and loss of life others had to endure. However, the pipe that collects water was swept away. This issue has yet to be fixed. Without support, Sarah says it will have an effect on the community’s ability to secure water.

I am good farmer. If I get enough water, and I have my inputs, I really have a good farming season.

The climate crisis is affecting people in every country on every continent, but it is those with the fewest resources – like farmers in Sarah’s community – who are enduring its harshest affects. By the 2030s, large parts of Southern, Eastern, and the Horn of Africa, and South and East Asia will experience greater exposure to droughts, floods, and tropical storms.

Along with our partners, we are working with communities vulnerable to climate change, providing them with the vital adaptation techniques they need to continue to feed their families and earn an income. 

Millions facing double disaster as second Covid wave overwhelms rural India

3 June 2021

The second wave of Covid-19 has left public healthcare in shambles, warned Oxfam India today, people have lost their lives due to lack of proper medical facilities and infrastructure. While the situation is getting a little under control in cities, it is still very grim in rural India.

Around 65 percent of the total population, which is approximately 1.3 billion, live in rural India where there are issues related to access to medical facilities, hospitals, doctors, technically trained staff and testing facilities. 

Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India said: “There was a time when we woke up every day to news of death of a friend, family, acquaintance. Villages were even worse off. With no access to health care and no testing, in some cases 20-25 people from a village died within days of each other. No one in India has remained untouched by this pandemic. And most of these lives could have been saved if there was proper, adequate, and affordable healthcare for all.

“People outside the major cities do not have the same access to social media to reach out for help or raise awareness of what is happening. While a lack of testing, healthcare facilities and post-mortems, means large numbers of cases in rural communities are not being recorded.”

Oxfam India plans to strengthen the rural health ecosystem in some of the most marginalised and vulnerable communities by providing the necessary tools, training and equipment needed by frontline health workers for early identification of cases and timely referral to health centres. 

While healthcare is the primary focus, Oxfam India is also reaching out to some of the most marginalised and vulnerable communities with food. In the long-run Oxfam will work towards providing livelihood support to informal sector workers and their families. 

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “Apart from a healthcare calamity, India was already reeling under economic stress. The sporadic lockdowns and containment zones mean that once again that informal sector workers - from street vendors to domestic workers - are the worst hit. Latest report from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) states that over 10 million Indians lost their jobs in the second Covid wave and around 97 percent of household incomes have fallen since the start of the pandemic last year. 

“Millions who slipped into poverty last year due to job losses are now facing another looming crisis, hunger. India already has the largest population facing food shortages in the world, with an estimated 189 million people in India already undernourished before the pandemic began.

“We have received an incredible response to our India appeal so far. From individual donations to corporate fundraisers – the support from the people and businesses across the island of Ireland has been so heartening and is having a direct and positive impact on the ground. It is fantastic to see such global solidarity in times of crisis. To help overcome the double disaster that Amitabh and his team are seeing right now in rural India, please support Oxfam’s India Crisis Appeal at www.oxfamireland.org, to provide much needed food and health care supplies to the people who need it most."

END

For more information, please contact:

Caroline Reid | Oxfam Ireland | caroline.reid@oxfam.org

Savvy Soumya Misra | Oxfam India | savvy@oxfamindia.org    

Notes to the Editors:  

  • In the second wave, Oxfam India is working with the government and local administrations to deploy 7 Oxygen generation plants, 25 ventilators, 500 Oxygen concentrators, 3000 Oxygen cylinders (40-lts capacity), 11800 Oxygen nasal masks, 300 BiPAP machines, 1200 ICU beds, around 16000 diagnostic equipment of different types, and 19000 PPE kits. We are also aiming to provide one-month dry ration supply and community safety kits to 225,000 people.
  • Oxfam are reaching out to public healthcare institutions, district administrations and COVID Care Centres with medical equipment will also reach the most marginalised and vulnerable communities with food, ration, and safety kits. 
  • Oxfam India also plans to train 35000 ASHA workers and provide them with medical kits for a larger community outreach to ensure Covid appropriate behaviour and also to tackle the issue of vaccine hesitancy.
  • Since March 2020, Oxfam India has been working in 16 states, reaching the most marginalised and vulnerable with medical supplies, food kits, cooked meals, safety and PPE kits, cash, and livelihood trainings.  
  • In the first month of Oxfam’s response to the second wave, they have provided support in Maharashtra, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh. While continuing to work in these states among the most marginalised and vulnerable communities, Oxfam India will also look at expanding to Bihar, Odisha, Assam, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Gujarat.  

About Oxfam India 

Oxfam India is a movement of people working to create a just and an equal India. We work to ensure that Adivasis, Dalits, Muslims, and women and girls have safe-violence free lives with freedom to speak their mind, equal opportunities to realize their rights, and a discrimination free future. 

During the last five years, Oxfam India has responded to more than 35 humanitarian disasters across the country and directly provided relief to nearly 1.5 million people. Oxfam India’s humanitarian response is guided by the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in disaster affected areas.

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Yemenis in Marib are running out of options

by Ruth James, Regional Humanitarian Coordinator - Middle East and North Africa

26th May 2021

143 displacement camps have sprung up in recent years around Marib. Each time there is an escalation in fighting, a new wave of people flee towards Marib and its surrounds, which now hosts over one million displaced people. Photo: Ruth James/Oxfam

“We are just waiting to die”

This is what Fatma* said when I met her in a displacement camp near Marib City, in Yemen. It was the third time she had been forced to flee since war broke out in Yemen six years ago. She arrived in this new camp just 27 days ago. Fatma was at a focus group discussion for displaced women led by Oxfam’s Senior Gender Officer for South Yemen, Reena Haitham.

143 such camps have sprung up in recent years around Marib. Each time there is an escalation in fighting, a new wave of people flee towards Marib and its surrounds, which now hosts over one million displaced people. More than 20,000 people have arrived in the last two months alone.

Why do they come?

Simply, they have nowhere else to go. Many have strong tribal links with people already living both in the city and the camps. Marib is Yemen’s oil and gas capital and all parties involved in this conflict have said publicly they will fight to the death for Marib.

This camp is in the heart of desert. It is battered by winds, floods and simmering heat. It is made up of makeshift shelters that people here say are not good enough even for their animals. The rainy season is just starting and Fatma says, “we will not be able to sleep soon because we will be in the water.”

When I say to the women it’s hot (it’s about 40 degrees), they laugh and say I should come back in two months. Then it will be really hot, they tell me.

This camp is in the heart of desert. It is battered by winds, floods and simmering heat. Its made up of makeshift shelters that people here say are not good enough even for their animals. Photo: Ruth James/Oxfam

In the last 27 days, they say they have received little support from anyone, except from a neighbouring IDP camp which has been there for a year. They rely on their neighbours for water, but there is hardly enough. Oxfam is planning to start providing assistance into this specific camp in the coming weeks.

Most of the women I speak to are widows. Their husbands have been killed either in the fighting, or when fleeing from the last IDP camp. They tell of shelling on civilian camps and say they do not feel safe. Gradually, they’re selling off their assets like livestock and jewellery in order to survive.  

Most are not educated and, even if they could get a job, culturally it is not accepted and employment could put their safety at risk.

There is not a single latrine in this settlement of around 450 people. Women go into the desert in groups at sundown to use the bathroom. There are snakes out there. One woman in the group lost her hand after she was bitten.  There are no menstrual hygiene materials so women either have to use dirty cloths, or nothing at all. They have no soap. They say their water is their most urgent need. Disease is widespread and there are no health clinics nearby.

Another woman, Hanan, showed me inside her shelter. It is 2.5m square. It sleeps her family of seven.

Violence continues unabated

Ramadan is supposed to be the peaceful month but conflict is intensifying in Marib by the day.

Recently workers for Oxfam’s local partner Benevolence Coalition for Humanitarian Relief (BCHR) were registering families in a camp to receive cash support. A missile landed about 100m away, injuring many and killing two women. Everyone in the camp was then moved to another, larger camp. This is the daily struggle people and humanitarian workers endure because of this unabated wretched war.

I spoke with Khadija, a mother of four, who fled after the missile landed in her camp. She told me that she had been forced to move three times already, and that over a year ago her husband disappeared in the fighting. She has no idea if he is alive or dead.

Khadija has no relatives to rely on for support. She says the cash Oxfam gave helped to buy food, nappies and formula for her baby.

I am neither on land nor in the sky, I don’t know if my husband is killed or still alive. I am I limbo.

What is Oxfam doing?

Oxfam and BCHR have provided life-saving cash to 1280 households in other camps and plan to start supporting the camp I visited soon. But this is just a drop in the ocean compared to what people in Marib need. It’s overwhelming. Their lives – and the work to support them – is further complicated by the fact that people have to keep moving as the conflict inches closer to them day-by-day.

We urgently need funding to provide for both those displaced and the communities that are hosting them, with clean water and sanitation, cash assistance to buy food and essential items such as soap, hygiene products, livelihood opportunities and access to basic services. The rainy season will start this month and their shelters will not be able to withstand the rain and wind. It is highly likely that cholera will increase.

Yemenis are running out of options, and unless the international community steps up support, many like Fatema and Khadija fear for their future.

Parties involved in this conflict must enforce a ceasefire now to save lives, and allow people to re-build.

Since July 2015, Oxfam has helped more than 3 million people in nine governorates of Yemen with clean water and sanitation, cash assistance and food vouchers, as well as gender and protection services – our supporters are central to this response. To date, we have reached over 35,000 people in Marib with life-saving aid, and we aim to reach many more. However, the best way of helping the people of Yemen is by implementing an immediate ceasefire and finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.

* Names have been changed

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