Ideally, this article about the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing injustices surrounding bringing it to an end wouldn't need to be written.
We're all experiencing the fatigue of the coronavirus pandemic, its socioeconomic impacts, and the systemic barriers that surround access to vaccines and ensuring financial equity. However, we shouldn’t let exhaustion stop us from taking action to tackle these systemic barriers and make sure that every single person on the planet has a fighting chance against COVID-19.
We cannot afford to be tired of the pandemic when so many people still face it as an ongoing threat. Millions of people still don’t have fair access to vaccines, and nearly 100 million people have been pushed into poverty as a result of the pandemic’s blow to the global economy.
Giving up that fight means giving up on the safety of global public health at large. And yes, that means giving up on the safety of your individual health, too, both now and in the face of future health threats.
As part of Global Citizen’s 2022 campaign, End Extreme Poverty NOW — Our Future Can’t Wait, we’re calling for the systemic barriers that continue to keep people in poverty to be broken. This includes bringing the COVID-19 pandemic to an end, focusing on building sustainable access to health care, and achieving financial equity so the poorest countries can recover from the pandemic and provide essential needs for their populations.
We’re also calling on world leaders to empower girls, which you can learn more about here, and for them to take immediate action against the climate crisis, which we’ve explained in detail here.
We’ve broken down what systemic barriers are, how they’re exacerbating poverty, and what we’re aiming to do to dismantle them in our article here.
Right now, however, we wanted to paint a picture of just how crucial it is to prioritize this mission by highlighting a few key facts that show why we need to dismantle these barriers.
1. 97 million people have been pushed into poverty because of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns hit economies hard, triggering the worst economic crisis since the 1930s and resulting in job losses, business closures, and income disruption. As a result, an estimated 97 million more people have been pushed into poverty. This figure does not account for people around the world who were already impoverished and pushed further into poverty.
2. Billionaires got 54% richer during the pandemic.
The global financial inequality gap saw a shocking increase between 2020 and 2021, with the poor being pushed further into poverty, and the rich continuing to climb the wealth ladder.
What’s more is that the world’s 10 richest men saw their wealth double during the pandemic. This has been the cause for calls for fair taxation on the world’s wealthiest, an agenda item set to be discussed at this year’s G20 summit in November.
3. COVID-19 vaccine-making pharmaceutical companies are earning $65,000 in profit every minute.
The global need for a vaccine has seen pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna collectively make $1,000 every second, according to figures from the Peoples Vaccine Alliance published in November 2021.
Meanwhile, a large majority of the world’s poor have yet to see a single vaccine dose. Advocates are calling on pharmaceutical companies to share their know-how and technology with developing countries, which would increase global vaccine supply and reduce prices, so that they too can equitably fight the pandemic.
4. 118 countries aren't on track to meet the WHO’s COVID-19 vaccination goal.
In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) set a global target for countries to administer primary vaccination to 70% of their populations by mid-2022. A large number of countries are far behind on this goal, with Africa’s countries lagging the furthest behind. In fact, as of now, not a single country in Africa is on track to meet this goal.
5. 60% of low-income countries are at high-risk of, or are already in, debt distress.
The pandemic has had a huge negative effect on countries’ economies and low-income countries are seeing the worst of its impacts, having had to keep their countries afloat through loans.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 60% of low-income countries are facing debt distress, and servicing their debts is costing them big time. It’s estimated that they’re paying more to service their debts now than at any other time over the past two decades.
6. A handful of wealthy countries will receive 68% of the IMF’s financial lifeline, while the poorest 44 countries will only receive 7%.
Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) are a financial reserve asset issued by the IMF that can be traded between countries, or with the IMF, serving as additional emergency funding. Last year the IMF issued a historic $650 billion in SDRs for pandemic recovery.
Right now the way this reserve asset will be distributed means that rich countries (which don’t need them as much) will receive the majority of these SDRs, amounting to around $442.8 billion; while 44 of the world’s poorest countries will receive the least, an estimated $44.5 billion.
7. Developing countries will need $3.5 trillion to respond to COVID-19 and meet the UN’s Global Goals by 2030.
The United Nations’ Global Goals have been thrown even further off track as a result of the pandemic, and developing countries will need a significant boost to be able to reach these goals in time. Even before the pandemic, there was a funding gap of an estimated $2.5 trillion to achieve these goals, and now because of the pandemic, this number has increased to an estimated $3.5 trillion.
8. Fewer than 20 countries in the world have full vaccine-making capacity.
This has impacted the bottle-necking effect that vaccine nationalism has had on the world’s vaccine supply. As soon as vaccines were available, rich countries over-bought vaccine stock — also investing in doses yet to be made — while middle- and low-income countries have had to wait for wealthy countries' orders to go through before even making their own vaccine orders. This is because fewer than 20 countries globally have the access to technology, funding, and capacity to make COVID-19 vaccine doses.
9. Just 13% of low-income populations have been vaccinated — compared to 75% of high-income populations.
What’s more is that conversations about administering a second booster shot in wealthy countries have already begun, despite a great number of people in low-income countries having yet to receive a single dose, including over a billion people across Africa alone.
10. Wealthy countries are far behind in fulfilling pledges to share their vaccines.
While rich countries that hoarded vaccines went on to pledge to share some of them with developing countries, a great number of these doses have yet to be seen in developing nations. Of the G7 countries, the United States has pledged and donated the most vaccine doses, yet is still far behind on reaching its vaccine donation goal — having shipped 24% of its pledged doses. The other G7 countries also remain far behind on delivering their pledges — having shipped between 10% (the UK) and 28% (Japan) of their pledged doses.
11. Africa currently produces just 1% of its own vaccines.
With a population of 1.3 billion people, and being the second largest continent in the world, it would make sense for Africa to have full capacity to make its own vaccines from scratch. But the continent still imports 99% of its vaccines, and while work to ramp up vaccine capacity on the continent is underway, these efforts will take a great deal of time without Big Pharma extending access to their intellectual property and sharing technology to help establish vaccine manufacturing facilities on the continent.
You can join the End Extreme Poverty NOW — Our Future Can't Wait campaign by signing up as a Global Citizen (either here or by downloading the Global Citizen app) and joining us in breaking systemic barriers NOW.