As Barbados received its first tranche of vaccines from the COVAX Facility on Tuesday, Prime Minister Mia Mottley called for coordinated action on the part of Caribbean countries to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said that would include coordinating measures such as collective shutdowns, instituting protocols and policy responses.
Mottley stressed that the ball rested with the “political will of member states” as such action was needed for a fairer and healthier world.
“If we do not get the fundamental development equation correct; if we do not work together; if we do not appreciate that we can only work together if we are to achieve a fair and healthier world, then we run the risk of seeing millions of persons die again in circumstances where policy responses can have a different result to ensure that [fewer] people become victims of epidemics and pandemics,” the Prime Minister warned during a virtual press conference hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Barbadian leader said the answer to fight the pandemic was simply for countries to work together and for a level of global moral leadership.
Describing the journey for Caribbean countries as “torturous over the last year” as they came up against larger countries in trying to access vaccines, Mottley expressed support for WHO’s first call to action for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments within and between countries.
She said that Barbados and its Caribbean counterparts were separated by the global communities as countries emerging from the depths of poverty and not deserving of assistance in traditional ways, usually reserved for the most vulnerable.
“This has made life difficult.… Globally, this has been a difficult exercise because we are seeing the spikes literally grow and we have not had access even when we are prepared to pay,” the Prime Minister said.
However, she pointed out that the struggle did not end there. She outlined that the post-COVID-19 recovery budget and plans to protect and prioritize the health and social sectors were felt by many.
Drawing examples from Barbados, Mottley said that the fall in the island’s gross domestic product, particularly in the loss of its production and productive capacity, threatened to set the island back more than a decade.
“Regrettably, we continue to be treated globally as one of those countries that are not deserving of concessional capital, even as we face the most difficult crisis that we have faced in a century,” she said.
However, she has vowed to take these and other issues up with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund later this week, during a meeting under her chairmanship.
“We will begin to start to put our case for the need to use different criteria for determining how countries should access serious concessional capital most needed now, in order to stave off the worst aspects of this pandemic, but more importantly, to deal with the long-lasting consequences of the pandemic, which are the social and economic losses that have been sustained in the last decade,” Mottley said.
During her address, the Prime Minister noted that the call to action for equitable services and infrastructure in all communities was also of importance.
She added that primary health care for everyone was also vital if Caribbean countries were to bring their populations out of the difficult times.
“This will not be the last pandemic. We have to determine what we will learn of our experience over the last year,” Prime Minister Mottley said.
The virtual press briefing at which she was speaking was held at the Grantley Adams International Airport, on Tuesday morning, after the arrival of a shipment of 33,600 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine provided through the COVAX Facility.
“Thirty-three thousand plus vaccines really represent 33,000 small jabs in the arms of Barbadians and residents of this country. But it represents, also, a significant step forward in our fight against COVID-19, as we pursue the path towards a destination which would include seeing Barbadians able to return to as close as possible to the quality of life that we are accustomed living and to the livelihoods of persons residing here as well,” said Minister of Health Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic who was also on hand to receive the vaccine shipment.
“These vaccines will help us in the Ministry to be able to manage COVID-19, and to be able to live with COVID-19, so that people could enjoy what they normally enjoy.”
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is the procurement agency for the COVAX Facility.
The PAHO/WHO Representative to Barbados, Dr. Yitades Gebre, explained that the goal of the COVAX Facility is to provide vaccines for up to 20 percent of the population in each participating country globally.
“COVAX remains the best option to offer vaccines with equity…. Our goal must be to save as many lives as possible by prioritizing early doses for those who are at the highest risk of infection…. Vaccines will help save lives and eventually halt the pandemic,” he said.