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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Ukraine Appeal | Help Today

Nearly 12 million Ukrainians have fled their homes from the war, 5 million into neighbouring countries.

Oxfam have a busy partner-led humanitarian response running in Ukraine, Poland, Moldova and Romania, aiming to reach up to 800,000 people, or more if possible.
In Poland, we have already reached more than 225,000 people.

We are concentrating on protection, water and sanitation, and food and economic security. We are providing cash and basic sanitation facilities for families in need of urgent assistance.

Thank you for your continued support.

4 links between the war in ukraine and the horn of africa hunger crisis

A woman with two children and carrying bags walk on a road to leave Ukraine after crossing the Slovak-Ukrainian border in Ubla, eastern Slovakia, close to the Ukrainian city of Welykyj Beresnyj. Photo: Peter Lazar/AFP via Getty Images

The world is facing a powerful convergence of crises. Conflict, COVID-19 and climate change are all contributing to record emergency aid needs.

The devastating humanitarian crisis in Ukraine has reminded us all of the need for global solidarity. But as the world watches Ukraine, we must also remember other crises around the globe. This is important since the economic impacts of the Ukraine crisis – including unprecedented food and energy price inflation – will be felt by the most vulnerable in our deeply unequal world.

One of the situations Oxfam is most concerned about is the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa – spanning Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Here are some similarities, and connections, between this crisis and the war in Ukraine.

Sowda Omar Abdile makes black tea in her home in Wajir County, located in Kenya’s northeast. Photo: Khadija Farah/Oxfam

The Ukraine crisis will worsen hunger in the Horn of Africa

In recent years, conflict, COVID-19 and the climate crisis have deepened catastrophic food insecurity in the Horn of Africa. Over 14 million people in the region – about half of them children – were already experiencing extreme hunger. Now, the Ukraine crisis threatens to make things even worse. The war in Ukraine is disrupting supply chains and causing food prices to skyrocket. This will push more people to the brink of famine in the Horn of Africa, which imports 90% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. The number of people on the edge of starvation will rise to 20 million by the middle of 2022 if rains continue to fail and prices continue to rise.

In both crises, women and girls are suffering most

Humanitarian crises are hard for everyone, but particularly for women and girls. This is the case in both the Ukraine and Horn of Africa crises.

In the Horn of Africa – especially in conflict-affected areas – women and girls are facing extraordinary dangers to secure food for their families, including gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse. Food insecurity also has tragic consequences for young girls. Desperate families sometimes resort to harmful coping mechanisms like pulling their daughters out of school or marrying them off in exchange for a dowry to secure some income. Since women are often responsible for caring for, and nourishing, their families, they tend to eat last and least. This makes them more likely to suffer from malnutrition, with consequences for their own health and the health of the babies they are carrying or breastfeeding.

In the Ukraine crisis, women and children make up 90 per cent of those fleeing the country. The gender and age profile of these refugees – who have lost everything and are often forced to put their trust in strangers – significantly increases the risk of gender-based violence, trafficking and abuse.

Both crises are equally urgent

The escalating violence and massive displacement in Ukraine are shocking and have rightly captured the world’s attention. The geopolitical significance of the Ukraine crisis, together with 24/7 media coverage, has led to near record levels of funding for the humanitarian response. This fast and generous support stands in stark contrast to the attention given to other crises – including the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa. Despite increasing needs, the humanitarian response for the region is woefully underfunded.

While the world watches Ukraine, we must remember the millions of people in neglected crises who are also suffering and in need of urgent support. Meeting humanitarian needs in Ukraine is vital, but donors must not displace funds that are badly needed to respond to challenges elsewhere. They must dig deeper and get creative. We shouldn’t need to choose between helping a refugee from Ukraine or a Somali farmer who lost her harvest. All lives are equally valuable. Both these humanitarian crises are worthy of urgent support.

Oxfam and local partners provide packages that include hygiene products and non-perishable food items to internally displaced people at the Ebnat aid distribution centre in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Photo: Serawit Atnafu/Oxfam

Oxfam is responding to both crises

When disaster strikes – whether it’s war or a hunger crisis – Oxfam responds with high quality lifesaving assistance, emergency supplies and essential protection for the most vulnerable.

In Europe, Oxfam is working to set up safe travel routes for Ukrainian refugees. We are supporting partner organizations who are providing vulnerable families with essential items like food, water, warm clothing, hygiene equipment and legal support.

In the Horn of Africa, in response to the worsening food crisis in the region, Oxfam is providing cash and vouchers. Communities will be able to use these to purchase essential food items and to meet basic nutritional needs. We also provide agricultural inputs, including seeds and tools, with training on more climate-resistant production to better prepare farmers for the future.

Since the hunger crisis in much of the region is caused by a prolonged drought, we are trucking water to remote communities and drilling wells to get clean water flowing. Many families rely on livestock for food, so we are supporting livestock treatment and vaccination campaigns. We are also helping people who have been displaced by conflict and drought by training protection volunteers on gender-based violence issues, and distributing solar lamps to protect women and girls at night.

Fleeing Conflict in Ukraine

Julia, 44, her mother-in-law Leana, 58, her son Andrey*, 9, and nieces and nephews from Kharkiv at the Hallo Kijowska reception centre for refugees from Ukraine. Korczowa, Poland.
Julia, 44, her mother-in-law Leana, 58, her son Andrey*, 9, and nieces and nephews from Kharkiv at the Hallo Kijowska reception centre for refugees from Ukraine. Korczowa, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Conflict has forced over 4 million people to flee from their home country of Ukraine. They are arriving with only what they can carry. Right now Oxfam is working with partners in countries bordering Ukraine, including Moldova, Romania and Poland to ensure the changing needs of those who’ve been forced to flee can be met as they seek safety.

Julia fled her home in Kharkiv, Ukraine, with her family. She tells Oxfam they are traveling to Georgia to stay with relatives.
Julia fled her home in Kharkiv, Ukraine, with her family. She tells Oxfam they are traveling to Georgia to stay with relatives. JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam


When Julia left Kharkiv, Ukraine, she took one last look at her home. “You look at your house and think about what to take with you, and then you realize you don’t need anything,” she says.

Julia left with her mother-in-law, her 9-year-old son, and nephews and nieces during a break in the bombardments they had endured for days, sheltering in a bunker. Her husband, like all men between 18 and 60, was forbidden by the government from leaving Ukraine.

"Children played jokes and smiled, they did not understand what was happening – they gave us strength to live on."

Tanya, 31, a book keeper from Cherkasy, Ukraine at the Przmeyśl Glówny train station after fleeing to Poland. Przmeyśl, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam


In Ukraine, Tanya 31 was an accountant in a fairly well-known corporation. Tanya and her family left their hometown of Cherkasy on a 18 hours bus journey to travel to Przmeyśl, Poland.

“Everyday there is an air raid siren and missiles fly nearby - it is very scary. I was forced to leave my country in order to ensure the safety of my children.

"I have a friend in Poznań, she is also a refugee. She has recently arrived and has settled down there for a while. She will help us to settle things too.

"It's incredibly scary when military planes fly overhead. Even now in a safe country where the situation is calm, I am frightened by every loud sound."

Ludomira, 74, from Kharkiv, Ukraine at the Lodyna transit centre for refugees. She is on her way to Rewal, Poland. Lodyna, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam


Ludomira 74 left Kharkiv, Ukraine and hopes to return and live back in her home.

"I had a nice apartment with good furniture, a lot of handmade things. The building has lost electricity and is without heating, but it is still standing. My husband's grave is there too. I miss him, and what will happen now? I don’t know where we are going, why are we going.

"All I want is that there be peace as soon as possible, that we return to our homes, to our friends, to our neighbours, and that I can visit my husband's grave."

Liuudmyla, 37, a pharmacist from Sumy, Ukraine, and her daughter Natalia*, 11, at the Przemyésl Gléowny train station on their way to Germany after fleeing their home. Przmeśl, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam


In Ukraine Liuudmyla 37 worked as a pharmacist and her daughter Natalia* was in fifth grade at school who played the piano and participated in competitions. On the 8th March, with thanks to the humanitarian corridor, they left Sumy, north-east Ukraine.

They travelled for 12 hours by bus and then 20 hours on one train, and then another 10 hours by train to get to Poland. Liuudmyla’s husband has stayed in Ukraine. Her sister and her husband’s mother who is 76 years old also stayed behind.

“I felt anxious when I arrived here and realised that my relatives stayed behind as it is now very unsafe there. I am calm for my child because she is here with me in Poland, but I am very worried about my relatives who stayed behind in Ukraine.”

Xenia, 35, from Ukraine and Armel, 38 from Ivory Coast, and their son Gabriel* 3 at the "Tesco" Humanitarian Aid Center for Ukrainian refugees. Przmeyśl, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam

Xenia and Armel

Xenia 35 and Armel 38 travelled with their son Gabriel* 3 from Kharkiv to Przmeyśl, Poland who are going to stay with a friend in Wroclaw.

“We had a basement and my neighbours and I organised it as a bomb shelter. We hid for a couple of days, then we tried for a long time to get to the station, but it was impossible, there was no public transport, there was not even a taxi. It was just awful.”

“When my son hears a siren, he says ‘Papa, siren!’ He doesn’t understand what is going on. Before I was so scared for his destiny.”

Elena, 43, a beautician from Gorishnwi Plauni, her son, Petro* 14, daughter, Olga* 9, and their dog Stephanie at the Hallo Kijowska reception center after fleeing Ukraine. Korczowa, Poland. Photo: JB Russell / Panos / Oxfam


Elena 43 a beautician from Gorishnwi Plauni, with her son, Petro* 14, daughter, Olga* 9, and their dog Stephanie fled Ukraine to Korczowa, Poland.

“At the moment we have everything necessary for life, we are very happy and grateful for the help from the Poles.

"The children continue to study online (post pandemic) and dream of going to school. We do not have a computer for the children, only a smartphone to help in their studies”

Oxfam Response

These stories were gathered Oxfam staff who were in Poland assessing the needs of refugees and identifying partners that can provide services for people fleeing Ukraine. Oxfam is working with partners in countries bordering Ukraine, including Moldova, Romania and Poland. These partners will lead on projects that Oxfam supports.

Our activities with partners currently range from:

  • Sharing information with refugees at border points and providing access to reliable information through hotlines and social media
  • Distributing the resources that people need to survive today, including food parcels and hygiene kits
  • Setting up handwashing stations and toilets, including ones that are accessible for people with disabilities, and showers.
  • Providing psycho-social support and advice to help people to deal with what they are going through.
  • Access to legal aid so that people arriving from Ukraine can receive support and learn about their rights.
  • Focusing on the needs of vulnerable groups and minorities, including Roma, LGBTQIA+, women travelling with young children and people with disabilities
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