COVID-19: Global Solidarity?

Vom - Bis
01.12.2021 -
Michael Korbmacher

PERIPHERIE, issue 164 (December 2021)

COVID-19: Global Solidarity?

In recent decades, deadly infectious diseases (such as tuberculosis, malaria, Ebola, and by now HIV/AIDS) have largely been considered a problem of the poorer countries of the Global South. The threat of a new influenza pandemic with effects comparable to those of the so-called Spanish influenza (1918-1920 with an estimated 50 million deaths) was feared in expert circles, but not really taken seriously in the countries of the Global North. From today's perspective, this led to serious political failures.

So now "Corona" (COVID-19: Coronavirus Disease 2019, caused by the pathogen SARS-CoV-2), a virus which, according to an interim status of February 17, 2021, has claimed 2.43 million lives worldwide and continues to spread fairly unchecked, in spite of a variety of protective measures and vaccines now available. As is well known, the fact that the virus is already transmitted by people, who do not display symptoms of the disease, is essential. As a consequence, measures such as lockdown, keeping a distance, wearing masks, and general social discipline and disciplining take on special importance. While these measures have reduced infections (with varying degrees of success), they have come at a high economic and social cost.

As in the case of the majority of emerging infectious diseases, it is likely that animal-to-human transmission plays a central role in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. This seems to be due to increasing human intervention in ecosystems, including destruction of wildlife habitats. "Globalization" then promotes the spread of the disease through the intensification and acceleration of global travel and transportation networks.

Quite early on, devastating impacts of the pandemic were feared in the Global South. This view rested in part on deficient health systems and the difficulty of enforcing rigid lockdown and spacing measures in countries with large informal sectors. Such measures often led to the collapse of local supply structures, especially of food, due to a lack of funds to compensate for the effects of lockdown, to health consequences stemming from the failure to combat other diseases, to an intensification of violent conflicts, and, in the medium term, to growing indebtedness. It should be noted that, for various reasons not yet fully understood, the spread of COVID-19 shows great regional differences. While Latin America and countries in West and South Asia were severely affected from the beginning of the pandemic, sub-Saharan Africa initially reported relatively low infection rates, while East Asian countries were able to control the pandemic relatively quickly.

Given the high cost of conventional protective measures and the lack of effective medicines, the best hope of controlling the pandemic in the medium term lies in efficient vaccination campaigns that reach even the most marginal parts of the population ("Nobody is safe, until everyone is safe" - few slogans have been used more frequently in the past year than this one).

Policies to address the pandemic and its socioeconomic implications reflect the current structures of global society, characterized primarily by complex interaction between the global, national, and local levels against a backdrop of extreme inequality of resources and power. Unequal access to vaccines and other medical interventions, as well as the lack of support for vaccination campaigns in poorer countries, highlight the existing contradictions between mechanisms of global cooperation and the policies of nation-states.

Given the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19, there was initially much talk of global solidarity. In April 2020 a broad alliance of international actors (such as Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations [CEPI], the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization [GAVI], The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria [GFATM], the International Facility for the Purchase of Medicines [Unitaid], International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations [IFPMA]) under the leadership of WHO launched the so-called "Access to Covid-19-Tools Accelerator". It aims at ensuring that knowledge about and access to the composition and manufacture of medicines and vaccines is organized in a way that no one is excluded and no rivalries arise over access, i.e., as a global public good. In June 2020, WHO, GAVI and CEPI established COVAX (Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access) as a mechanism to guarantee fair access to vaccines for every country in the world. For low-income countries, the cost of vaccines should be partially covered by richer countries and philanthropic organizations. The partly multilateral governmental support for the development of vaccines may well be seen as their basic recognition as a global public good.

Vaccine nationalism, on the other hand, is the result of expectations, first within wealthy nation-states, that the supply of vaccines is the responsibility of national governments. Voices pointing to self-interest in global solidarity are present but have no chance of gaining traction in the national mass media. In countries with their own vaccine development, there is a demand that "we" should have a primary claim to "our" vaccines. In many countries of the Global South, confidence in COVAX is waning; these countries have begun to negotiate for additional vaccine doses themselves, as far as this is financially possible. Again, the WHO Director-General warned on 8/1/2021 that bilateral vaccine deals could lead to increased prices for all.

The pharmaceutical industry is partly bound by contracts with nation-states because of the payments it receives to fund research; it pretends to "show solidarity", undoubtedly struggling to expand vaccine production to meet current needs, but also anxious not to let expected profits be taken out of its hands by relinquishing intellectual property rights. When India and South Africa called for the temporary abrogation of relevant TRIPS clauses (a waiver) at the TRIPS Council in October 2020 in order to allow rapid expansion of global production of vaccines by industries in the more advanced countries of the Global South, this was roundly rejected.

For the planned issue, we welcome contributions on topics such as:
- COVID-19 and national health systems.
- Differences in regions: Causes of differential infection incidence, strategies and potential for infection control in different regions.
- COVID-19: practice and consequences of lockdown, social distancing and socio-economic consequences.
- Epidemics, pandemics and globalization, also in historical perspective ("Spanish influenza", Ebola, HIV/AIDS).
- Impact of human interventions in ecosystems (settlement areas, agro-industrial agriculture, destruction of wildlife habitats) on the emergence of epidemics and pandemics.
- Global governance: solidarity and nation states; role of the COVAX initiative.
- Credit supply and debt in the context of COVID-19.
- Pharmaceutical industry, patent law and access to vaccines and medicines.
- Role of Russian and Chinese vaccines as complements or alternatives to offerings from Western pharmaceutical companies.
- COVID-19 and political crises in national societies.

The submission deadline for articles is August 31, 2021.

For manuscripts, correspondence with regard to potential contributions, and further questions, please contact: Further information for authors is summarised on our website at:

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