Development and Peace and its Caritas partners have launched public information campaigns in Bangladesh and other nations to educate people about COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Caritas Internationalis

Poorest at back of COVID vaccine line

By 
  • December 19, 2020

Canada, with 37.6 million people, has agreements to purchase 194 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines with options to buy another 220 million. If all these vaccines pan out, we could vaccinate Canada’s entire population almost six times over.

In contrast, 70 of the world’s poorest nations face 2021 with only enough vaccine to potentially protect one in 10 citizens, according to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, an outgrowth of the UN and large charities.

Development and Peace, Canada’s Catholic development agency, doesn’t think that’s fair or smart.

The movement of 10,000 Catholics across Canada is asking for increased funding for vaccinations in the countries where Development and Peace works with local partners to eradicate widespread poverty.

Lobbying for COVID justice “is an ongoing effort,” said spokesperson Minaz Kerewala. “We are in conversations with Global Affairs Canada directly and through the Canadian civil society networks that we are part of.”  

While Development and Peace lobbies in Canada, the Caritas Internationalis network is asking for help protecting people around the world who have a much longer wait for pandemic relief. Working with the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Caritas is asking for help funding 38 Caritas organizations with pandemic protection plans serving 13.7 million people.

In countries around the world — Belarus, Ethiopia, Jordan, Rwanda, Iraq, Greece, Nigeria, Pakistan, Lebanon, Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of Congo — Caritas has projects to keep kids learning, teach basic hygiene, distribute personal protective equipment and ensure the most vulnerable can eat through the pandemic.

In the meantime, Development and Peace’s partners around the world are doing what they can to protect local people from the disease and from rumours and conspiracy theories that make the situation even more dangerous.

In Ecuador the ALER (Latin American Association of Popular Education and Communication) network of mostly rural radio stations is relaying key public health information and debunking myths as they arise. In Bangladesh, Caritas Bangladesh has distributed 114,080 leaflets and 400 posters promoting accurate COVID-19 information to 225,000 people.

“Public information is a major part of their efforts,” said Kerawala. “And dispelling misinformation.”

The prospect of vaccines is a little further off for Development and Peace – Caritas Canada partners around the world.

“When vaccines become available in their jurisdictions, we expect that our partners will begin co-operating with their local public health authorities to promote and spread awareness about vaccination,” said Kerawala.

Meanwhile, Development and Peace is backing Co-operation Canada’s efforts to persuade Canada to do more beyond our borders. Co-operation Canada is the umbrella organization for Canada’s international development charities.

“Eradicating COVID-19 domestically can only occur if this is achieved globally,” reads Co-operation Canada’s latest paper aimed at Ottawa’s spending priorities. “It is Canada’s historical imperative to do its fair share and within our strategic interest to do so.”

Given that Canada’s contributions to global poverty eradication have fallen to a mere 0.27 per cent of gross national income, a real commitment on COVID-19 would only be one step toward rebalancing Canada’s commitment to the world, according to Co-operation Canada.

“As a proportion of the economy, the current government’s record is the lowest in 50 years, continuing a two-decade downward trend across both Liberal and Conservative administrations,” the lobby group claimed.

The pandemic has pushed 265 million to the brink of starvation and kept 290 million children out of school. These are developments which threaten progress made over recent years, such as preventing 21 million deaths from measles through vaccination drives, health and nutrition initiatives that drove a 20-per-cent increase in life expectancy and a drop in extreme poverty from 36 per cent of the world’s population in 1990 to 10 per cent in 2015.

Canada once proposed the United Nations’ standard of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income dedicated to beating poverty around the world. We’re now a below average country in terms of development aid among the 34 contributing nations measured by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 

“Given the unprecedented humanitarian needs of COVID-19 and historic gains in economic, social, political and environmental outcomes around the world that are now in jeopardy, Canada’s efforts are needed to ensure a just recovery,” said Co-operation Canada.

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