Global immunity crucial to overcoming COVID-19 pandemic, says health expert at Arab Health

Despite global commitments surrounding vaccine equity, most of the world, largely the African continent and parts of Asia, still do not have access

  
People receive the first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Central Vaccination Center, inside the Bang Sue Grand Station, Thailand, June 21, 2021.

People receive the first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Central Vaccination Center, inside the Bang Sue Grand Station, Thailand, June 21, 2021.

Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

DUBAI: Not until the vast majority of people worldwide are immune from the COVID-19 virus will we come out of the pandemic, was the stark advice from public health expert Dr Ashish Jha, during the opening day of Arab Health 2021.

Speaking at the Public Health Conference during a session on emergency preparedness, response and recovery, Dr Jha, Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, highlighted that globally only 10 to 15% of the population, around two billion people, have been vaccinated, which he believes puts us currently halfway through the pandemic globally.

"We're in the middle of the worst health crisis in a century, and the challenges are varied and what the pandemic looks like varies tremendously based on where you are at any given moment," said Dr Jha.

"Numbers are coming down because countries are in lockdown or are using public health measures. We see real progress in some of the hardest-hit countries like India; however, we're not going to be done with this pandemic until we have the vast majority of people immune from the virus, and we are nowhere near that," he added.

During the session, several challenges to the vaccination rollout were highlighted, including vaccine equity. Despite global commitments surrounding vaccine equity, most of the world, largely the African continent and parts of Asia, still do not have access.

"The bottom line is most countries don't have access to vaccines. Despite all of the global talk about vaccine equity, countries have prioritised their citizens. If we let the current status quo continue, it's probably going to take two to three years to get everybody vaccinated – we have to do much better than that," said Dr Jha.

More cohesion between the private sector and the government to address the shortage of raw materials preventing companies from making vaccines was also highlighted. Technology transfer and the need for companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca to do more in terms of sharing technology with companies able to produce vaccines was also outlined as a potential course of action to meet global vaccine targets.

"Even if you have people willing and able to make vaccines, there's a shortage of raw materials. In my mind, this is a classic role of the government to start working with companies that have not traditionally been in the raw material space. People should be asking themselves, 'can we change our manufacturing and change our focus to make some of the raw materials that vaccine makers need to produce vaccines’," explained Dr Jha.

"We need a very concerted effort. This is going to require a very close partnership with both the private sector and governments to make more vaccines available," he added.

Ross Williams, Exhibition Director at Arab Health, said: "With the global outbreak of COVID-19, public health has been brought to the forefront of discussion by looking at strategy and policy. With the pandemic still affecting billions of people around the world, it is important for us to create a platform that focuses on basic concepts, consequences, prevention and control of COVID-19, as well as other areas of public health impacted by the pandemic, such as the social, cultural, and economic factors." One of the companies helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the region is Honeywell, the associate partner of the Public Health Conference and innovation partner of Arab Health. Along with Strata, they have established the first UAE-based production of critical N95 masks in response to the global pandemic.

Arab Health has been developed under the show theme of 'United by Business, driving the industry forward, with the live, in-person event expected to welcome 1,500 exhibiting companies and over 20,000 attendees expected during the Live, in-person event.  More than 300 speakers are expected to come together for the Arab Health Congress to improve medical practice and ultimately improve patient outcomes. A total of 12 medical conferences will take place between 21-24 June, nine of which will be Continuing Medical Education (CME) accredited.

© Copyright Emirates News Agency (WAM) 2021.


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