The MSF mobile clinic team visited post-discharge cases and patients in isolation in their home. Photograph by Mariana Abdalla
Statement |

Statement by MSF International Medical Secretary at 2021 G20 Health Ministers meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Maria Guevara
International Medical Secretary
MSF International
4 min
Photograph by Mariana Abdalla
The MSF mobile clinic team visited post-discharge cases and patients in isolation in their home. Photograph by Mariana Abdalla

Your excellencies, distinguished guests, …

As we recall today the proud declarations made at last November’s Summit: to stand united in conviction of the necessity of a coordinated global action, solidarity, and multilateral cooperation; 

Or the commitments made at the Extraordinary Summit of March 2020: to spare no effort to protect lives and provide support, [focusing on] the most vulnerable; 

Or the UHC slogan: ‘to leave no one behind’;

We can only observe how efforts to date have fallen short. 

Despite lessons learned claimed from past health emergencies – including COVID - we collectively remain unable to bring this current pandemic to an end, leaving us all woefully unprepared for the next big crisis. 

In the last few months, healthcare workers, including us at Médecins Sans Frontières, have struggled to provide patient care in countries such as Brazil, Peru, India or Yemen. The operational barriers are real.  Like others, we lack the necessary tools to care for patients – oxygen, beds, ventilators- and we witness that vaccination is too slow, or inexistent. 

Fragile health systems are crushed – and patients suffer, with healthcare workers included, highlighting that vaccines are still not reaching priority populations in many parts of the world. Bureaucratic constraints make it difficult for organizations like ours to surge, contribute and assist where we can. Mechanisms for current and future responses should seriously consider the collective role that all actors can play

Critical to the response, vaccines are not yet where they need to be. Some countries have disregarded the global equitable allocation frameworks, choosing a path of vaccine nationalism. The COVAX facility is at risk of failing and needs to be critically reviewed; today it is reliant on donations to deliver. 

Dose sharing is happening, but many more doses are needed NOW.

But this is only a short-term solution.

The call for a temporary trips waiver is an effort to fix the system. While 63 WTO members are now official sponsors, several G20 States continue to stall and block decisions to lift corporate monopolies that would enable global production and supply diversification. Industry must share their recipes and know-how of COVID vaccines and other medical tools with the rest of the world, especially since public investment made many of these possible. Breaking the status quo is a courageous step to an effective and inclusive response to present and future health emergencies. 

Health MUST trump market shares. 

And if vaccines do arrive, they do not always reach their intended targets. These scarce commodities go to waste because of unresourced operational costs that would ensure they get from the first mile to the last. The short shelf life of vaccines further exacerbates this, closing the window for vaccination fast.  Regular stability testing must be done to extend vaccine shelf life.

Our experience in Lebanon and elsewhere of vaccine hesitancy reminds of the vital need for strong health promotion and tailor-made messaging to counter disinformation and fear. This work is a priority and needs resourcing.

Finally, we need to reach people ‘outside’ the system – as refugees, IDPs, migrants, or those living in non-government-controlled areas. The humanitarian buffer, meant as a ‘last resort’ to cover those excluded from national plans, is well intentioned but will fail, if 'big’ pharma companies continue to push the liability onus onto NGOs.  With safety and quality data now available, it’s time for manufacturers to take back that responsibility

It’s too soon to talk about lessons learned, too soon for congratulatory complacency at our supposed “international solidarity”. This pandemic is NOT under control. We need to look long and hard at the failures and address them NOW and not only tomorrow.

Thank you.