'A pandemic of greed': how corporation power made COVID-19 worse
If a single word can encapsulate why—two years into the global Covid-19 pandemic—the virus continues to spread widely and kill thousands of people each day despite the availability of lifesaving vaccines, the humanitarian group Oxfam International on Thursday suggested that word is "greed."
In a new report titled "Pandemic of Greed," Oxfam offers a grave assessment of the current state of the public health emergency in an effort to bury the notion that the coronavirus is on its way out and normality is on the horizon—a rosy and potentially dangerous sentiment voiced in recent days by the leaders of rich nations and the executives of powerful pharmaceutical companies.
"While effective vaccines provide hope, their rollout has tipped, from a natural desire to protect citizens, into nationalism, greed, and self-interest," reads Oxfam's report, compiled on behalf of the People's Vaccine Alliance. "Large numbers of people in low-income countries face the virus unprotected and millions of people would still be alive today if they had had access to a vaccine. Big pharmaceutical corporations have been given free rein to prioritize profits ahead of vaccine equality."
Published almost exactly two years after the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic, Oxfam's analysis brings together a slew of data points that, taken together, paint a picture far more dire than the one U.S. President Joe Biden presented during his closely watched State of the Union address on Tuesday.
"Because of the progress we've made, because of your resilience and the tools we have, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines," Biden said in his speech.
Oxfam's report counters that "in the United States, where vaccination rates are lower than in Europe, the deaths from Covid-19 have remained high, on a par with previous waves of the pandemic."
More broadly, the group notes, "an estimated 99% of humanity are worse off because of Covid-19, 160 million people have been pushed into poverty, and 137 million people have lost their jobs."
While the pandemic has had far-reaching and destructive consequences, touching countless lives directly and indirectly across the planet, Oxfam makes clear in its new report that not everyone's livelihood has been harmed by the public health catastrophe.
"The richest 10 men doubled their fortunes during the pandemic and a new billionaire is being created every 26 hours," the report notes. "Of those new billionaires, 40 of them have made their billions profiting from vaccines, treatments, tests, and [personal protective equipment]."
Oxfam emphasizes that the pain inflicted by Covid-19 has been disproportionately concentrated in poor countries, which have been denied sufficient access to vaccines by rich nations and profit-seeking pharmaceutical giants that have hoarded doses and technology.
"Rich countries and corporations have tied up the global response to Covid-19 for their own benefit, leaving the Global South to bear the brunt of this pandemic," Maaza Seyoum, Global South convenor for the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement Thursday. "As billions of people are still unable to access vaccines, some have the audacity to claim that the pandemic is over. That is an utter fallacy. Third and fourth doses in rich countries alone cannot erase the ever-rising death toll in lower-income countries."
To convey the extent of the pandemic's devastating impact on low-income countries, Oxfam's report observes:
- For every life lost in a rich country, another four people have died in a poorer nation. Fifty-four percent of all deaths caused by Covid-19 have been in low- and lower-middle-income countries, where 10.6 million people have died. 2.7 million people are estimated to have died in high-income countries, 14% of global deaths.
- People in poorer nations are 1.3 times more likely to die as a result of the pandemic compared to rich countries. Per capita deaths in low- and lower-middle-income countries are 31% higher than in high-income countries.
- Every minute, four children around the world lose a parent or caregiver as a result of the pandemic—almost half of these children are in India, where over two million children have been affected by orphanhood.
Worldwide, Oxfam estimates that 19.6 million people have died as a result of the pandemic. That figure, which includes deaths directly and indirectly caused by Covid-19, is far higher than the official estimate of roughly 6 million deaths from the virus alone. At least 3 million people have died since the highly contagious Omicron variant was detected by South African scientists in November.
The only way to prevent the emergence of new mutations and finally end the pandemic, Oxfam argues, is "an urgent change in strategy" that includes a suspension of coronavirus-related patent protections, the transfer of vaccine technology to developing countries, and a massive increase in funds for global vaccine manufacturing.
According to one recent study, producing and distributing three coronavirus vaccine doses to every person in low- and lower-middle-income countries would prevent over a million deaths for the cost of $61 billion—a fraction of the $778 billion U.S. military budget.
To date, just 13% of people in low-income countries have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose.
"After two years, we all want this pandemic to be over, but politicians in rich countries are exploiting that fatigue to ignore the devastating impact of Covid-19 that continues to this day," Anna Marriott, Oxfam's Health Policy Manager, said in a statement Thursday. "While incredibly effective vaccines provided hope, rich countries derailed the global vaccine rollout with nationalism, greed, and self-interest."
"Suggestions that we are entering a 'post-Covid era,'" Marriott added, "ignore the continuing deaths in primarily lower-income countries that could be prevented by vaccines."
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