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  • 2 min read
  • Published: 28th October 2022
  • Written by Christine Bale

Reflections on Global Health Inequalities

irish global health network conference image

The Irish Global Health Network hosted a global health conference online and in Trinity College Dublin on the 26th and 27th of October. The first conference session opened with stark

 statistics on global health inequity from Oxfam CEO Jim Clarken:

  • In low Income countries there are less than 4.5 healthcare workers per 1000 population, in Ireland there are 16 per 1000. 

  • 81% of people have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose compared to 19% in low-income countries.

Dr. Pieternella Pieterse of DCU followed by providing a striking example of global health inequality: approximately 50% of healthcare workers in Sierra Leone are unsalaried. This is in part because a huge proportion of Sierra Leone’s national income goes on repaying debt to the IMF and other bodies. This highlights the need to heed Oxfam Ireland’s call for debt cancellation for countries like Sierra Leone.

At the conference Irish Times journalist Sally Hayden described the horrific conditions for people on the move in Libya brought about by EU migration policies: ‘‘In one detention centre, one person was dying every two weeks of starvation or tuberculosis”. She discussed this in the context of her new book My Fourth Time, We Drowned which explores the shocking experience of people seeking refugee and how this suffering is in ways facilitated by the EU, the UNHCR, the IOM and numerous NGOs. Overall, she called on us as citizens of the EU to demand more of our leaders in this area.

Robbie Lawlor of Access to Medicines Ireland also led a rallying call for us all to be more radical in order to address the climate crisis. Climate change and health was a common thread through-out the conference. Dr. Julian Eaton highlighted the huge climate anxiety experienced by young people and how we need to address this by taking radical steps to address climate change, not by pathologising the issue. Professor Karyn Morrisey launched the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change. Climate change has increased the frequency of heat waves leading to an additional 98 million people experiencing food insecurity in 2020. We were told about how governments and companies continue to prioritise fossil fuel interests to the detriment of people's health and wellbeing. However, Karyn discussed how there is some hope; decarbonisation is occurring but governments must be held accountable to ensure they meet the Paris commitments, at a minimum.

The other crisis that featured prominently though-out the conference was the COVID-19 pandemic. James Larkin, Oxfam Ireland’s Health and Vaccine Inequity Coordinator presented about our forthcoming report analysing the Irish government’s response to global COVID-19 vaccine inequity. This primarily focussed on the failures of the EU and Ireland in terms of waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, medicines and diagnostics. Dr. Mike Ryan summed up the issue as follows: “If we don’t waive intellectual property rights during a once in a generation pandemic that’s killing millions of people, then when will we?”

Through-out the conference the efforts of coalitions and advocates to address these issues shone through, these included the People’s Vaccine Alliance, Access to Medicines Ireland, Women in Global Health, Comhlámh, Irish Doctors for the Environment and the Irish Global Health Network.