President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday called on the United Nations to ensure universal access to the COVID-19 vaccine, “as a matter of policy,” once it becomes commercially available.
Speaking for the first time before the UN General Assembly through a taped message, Duterte said the vaccine should be made available to rich and poor nations alike.
“Ensuring universal access to anti COVID-19 technologies and products is pivotal in the global pandemic recovery…When the world finds that vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld,” he said.
“It should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy,” he added.
A recent Oxfam study has shown that rich nations representing just 13 percent of the global population have already bought up more than half the stock of promised COVID-19 vaccines.
Oxfam said the five leading vaccine candidates in late-stage trials will be able to supply 5.9 billion doses, of which at least 51 percent have already been snapped up by wealthy nations, including the United States, Britain, the European Union, Australia, Hong Kong and Macau, Japan, Switzerland and Israel.
The World Health Organization earlier crafted a vaccine agreement where more than 150 countries have agreed to participate in its COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility or Covax.
Covax aims to develop and distribute $2 billion in doses of a vaccine by the end of next year. While 64 higher-income countries have already signed up, Russia, China and the United States have yet to join.
Duterte said for a country like Philippines, an acceptable COVID-19 solution would mean “putting all of the peoples of our united nations at the core of this response.”
“While each nation has its own strategy in fighting the pandemic, what the world needs are coordinated international plans and efforts to pursue a common purpose,” he said.
“COVID-19 knows no border. It knows no nationality. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no age. It knows no creed.”
“The Philippines joins our partners in the ASEAN and the Non-Aligned Movement in raising our collective voice: the COVID-19 vaccine must be considered a global public good. Let us be clear on this,” Duterte added.
He also urged the UNGA to ensure that the WHO has enough resources and policy space to address the pandemic more quickly and more efficiently.
“We need a WHO that is quick to coordinate and quicker to respond. The Philippines will do its part in the pooling of global resources. Our health workers are among the best,” Duterte said.
He said the Philippines honors all frontliners who have “selflessly answered the call to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“We salute all frontliners who put their lives on the line even in countries not their own,” he said.
The President, however, appealed to UN member-states to ramp up its protection of migrant workers, including seafarers -- thousands of whom were left stranded at sea or in countries that have shut their borders in response to the pandemic.
“Filipino migrant workers have been devastated by the pandemic. Many have lost not only their livelihood, but also their health and lives as well. Yet they go on in the frontlines, healing, caring for others in the different parts of the world,” he said.
He said some 345,000 overseas Filipino workers had to be repatriated, of which half had already returned to the Philippines.
“We thank the countries that have provided Filipino migrants with residence permits, access to testing, treatment and related health services in this pandemic. In these times, we need stronger cooperation in promoting and protecting the rights of migrants, regardless of their migrant status.”
“We must all adhere to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Unless states include all migrants in their response to this pandemic, ‘No one among us is safe, until everyone is safe,’” the President added.
Duterte said the pandemic has highlighted the need to address another crisis -- that of climate change -- as he urged countries to meet the carbon emission reduction targets set under the Paris Agreement.
“Climate change has worsened the ravages of the pandemic. The same urgency needed to fight COVID-19 is needed to address the climate crisis. This is a global challenge that has worsened existing inequalities and vulnerabilities from within and between nations,” he said.
“Peoples in developing countries like the Philippines suffer the most. We cannot afford to suffer more.”
“The Philippines joined the Paris Agreement to fight climate change. We call on all parties, especially those who have not made good their commitment to fight climate change, to honor the same,” Duterte added.