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On vaccine equality, the UK has failed to show the leadership the world needs | Mohamed Adow and Tasneem Essop

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Covid and the climate crisis are the two defining global crises of our time and Britain has a crucial role to play in addressing them both. As the Cop26 host, it will be responsible for overseeing a successful outcome at the UN climate talks in Glasgow in November.

Only a few weeks ago, before the prime minister hosted the G7, Boris Johnson promised the group of wealthy nations would vaccinate the world by the end of the year.

After failing dismally to deliver on this pledge, the UK government is trying to rush delegates to Cop26 a Covid vaccine in order to keep its climate conference on the road at all costs. The sudden and hurried announcement pushes those who want to attend Cop to register for a vaccination by 23 July. This puts many people, especially in poorer nations and from vital civil society groups, in the invidious position of having to choose to get a vaccine before the frontline workers and vulnerable groups in their own countries.

This moral dilemma could be avoided if rich nations at the G7, under the UK’s leadership, had stepped up with a real plan to achieve global vaccine equity. They did not. Instead, they have perpetuated the vaccine apartheid we are experiencing.

More than 100 former presidents and prime ministers had written to the G7, urging them to bankroll at least two-thirds of the $66bn (£48bn) needed by low-income countries for Covid vaccines. But rather than paying up the $44bn that such an undertaking would cost, they instead offered a measly $7bn.

The former UK prime minister Gordon Brown lambasted Johnson’s broken promises. He said the summit would be remembered as an “unforgivable moral failure”. In Africa, Covid cases rose by 25% last week. At the present infection rate, and to vaccinate only 10% of the most vulnerable among the population, the continent would need 225m vaccine doses. But the UK offered just 5m doses – 2% of what is required.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for less than 1% of the near billion fully vaccinated people around the world. According to Oxfam, it would take 57 years for the world to be safe from Covid-19 if the rate of vaccination in low-income countries were to be maintained. This is unacceptable, morally reprehensible and shortsighted.

Not only has the UK failed to deliver enough jabs, it has blocked efforts to waive patents that would see global vaccine production accelerated. This makes a mockery of the G7’s attempts to pose as allies of developing countries. They are not.

So, the UK’s offer of vaccinating delegates to attend Cop26 must be viewed against the backdrop of vaccine inequity. The offer cannot be the only intervention from the Cop26 and G7 president. Much more is required from it. Otherwise, it would appear the UK is interested only in keeping its United Nations show on the road and politically cashing in on the Cop climate summit, rather than actually doing anything meaningful to tackle the vaccine apartheid it has helped to create around the world.

These are the actions of a small and inward-looking government, not one taking its international responsibilities seriously. Nor does it appear to understand the importance of solidarity during a global crisis.

As the host of Cop26, the UK needs to be viewed as a trusted broker that can be taken seriously. All the talk of “global Britain” from Johnson suggested this would be one of the benefits of Brexit. However, we have seen a botched G7 promise on vaccines, a cut to international aid in the middle of a pandemic, and now a chaotic system to provide vaccines to delegates before Cop26.

For the UK’s sake, for the fate of millions across the world and for the fate of the climate, we need to see Johnson change tack and lead.

  • Mohamed Adow is director of Power Shift Africa, a Kenyan climate and energy thinktank. He is a longtime observer of the UN climate talks.

  • Tasneem Essop is executive director of Climate Action Network, an international group of more than 1,500 civil society organisations working on the climate crisis, social justice and sustainability in more than 130 countries.

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EU not evacuating staff from Kyiv

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The EU will not evacuate its staff from Kyiv, the bloc’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Monday before the meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers, who will have a video conference with US secretary of state Anthony Blinken. “Blinken will explain the reasons for this announcement, we are not going to do the same thing, […], we don’t have to dramatise, the negotiations are going on,” Borrell said.

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‘I’ve already sold my daughters; now, my kidney’: winter in Afghanistan’s slums | Global development

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The temperature is dropping to below zero in western Afghanistan and Delaram Rahmati is struggling to find food for her eight children.

Since leaving the family home in the country’s Badghis province four years ago, the Rahmatis have been living in a mud hut with a plastic roof in one of Herat city’s slums. Drought made their village unliveable and the land unworkable. Like an estimated 3.5 million Afghans who have been forced to leave their homes, the Rahmatis now live in a neighbourhood for internally displaced people (IDP).

There are no jobs. But the 50-year-old has hospital fees to pay for two of her sons, one of whom is paralysed and the other who has mental illness, as well as medicine for her husband.

“I was forced to sell two of my daughters, an eight- and six-year-old,” she says. Rahmati says she sold her daughters a few months ago for 100,000 afghani each (roughly £700), to families she doesn’t know. Her daughters will stay with her until they reach puberty and then be handed over to strangers.

It is not uncommon in Afghanistan to arrange the sale of a daughter into a future marriage but raise her at home until it is time for her to leave. However, as the country’s economic crisis deepens, families are reporting that they are handing children over at an increasingly young age because they cannot afford to feed them.

Delaram Rahmati
Delaram Rahmati, who sold a kidney to support her family. Photograph: Rukhshana Media

Yet, selling her daughters’ future was not the only agonising decision Rahmati was forced to make. “Because of debt and hunger I was forced to sell my kidney,” she tells Rukhshana Media from outside her home in the Herat slum.

Afghanistan is on the brink of “a humanitarian crisis and economic collapse”, according to the UN. The agency’s ambassador to Afghanistan has said it is “experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis of its contemporary history”. Drought, Covid-19 and the economic sanctions imposed after the Taliban seized power in August 2021 have had catastrophic consequences on the economy. Dramatic rises in inflation have resulted in soaring food prices.

The kidney trade has been growing in Afghanistan for some time. But since the Taliban took power, the price and conditions under which the illegal organ trade takes place has changed. The price of a kidney, which once ranged from $3,500 to $4,000 (£2,600 to £3,000), has dropped to less than $1,500 (£1,100). But the number of volunteers keeps rising.

Rahmati sold her right kidney for 150,000 afghani (£1,000). But her recovery from the operation has not been good and now, like her husband, she is also sick, with no money left to visit a doctor.

More than half of the country’s estimated 40 million population face “extreme levels of hunger, and nearly 9 million of them are at risk of famine”, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. For a growing number of Afghans, selling a kidney is their only way to get money to eat.

Herat city’s slums
Since leaving the family home in Badghis province four years ago, the Rahmatis have been living in a mud hut with a plastic roof in a camp in Herat city. Photograph: Rukhshana Media

“It has been months since we last ate rice. We hardly find bread and tea. Three nights a week, we can’t afford to eat dinner,” says Salahuddin Taheri, who lives in the same slum as the Rahmati family.

Taheri, a 27-year-old father of four, who scrapes together enough money for five loaves of bread each day by collecting and selling recycled rubbish, is looking for a buyer for his kidney. “I have been asking private hospitals in Herat for many days if they need any kidney. I even told them if they need it urgently, I can sell it below the market price, but I haven’t heard back,” Taheri says. “I need to feed my children, I have no other choice.”

In the past five years about 250 official kidney transplants have taken place in the hospitals in Herat province, with a very limited number being a family member donating their organ, says Asif Kabir, a public health official in the province. The cost of a kidney transplant is 400,000 afghani, plus the price of the kidney, according to Kabir.

But the true number of kidney operations may be far higher. A doctor working in one of the hospitals where most of the transplants take place, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says: “Recently the number of people who want to sell their kidney has increased in Herat and most of them live in the displaced camps, in Herat’s slums. The customers also go to the displaced camps to find a cheap kidney.”

Sayed Ashraf Sadat, a civil society activist in Herat, was a member of a delegation assigned by president Ashraf Ghani to investigate the illegal kidney trade in May 2021.

Chinar’s scar from kidney surgery.  Her husband is sick and she had to sell her kidney to feed their children
A nurse looks at Chinar’s scar from kidney removal surgery. Chinar, who lives in the Herat camp, said her husband is sick and she had to sell the organ to feed their four children. Photograph: Mstyslav Chernov/AP

“We found that the hospitals were not working according to the law. People are working inside and outside the country to encourage people to sell their kidneys. These people get them visas and send them to the other side of the border. There is more demand for kidney transplants outside Afghanistan. Countries like Iran need kidneys, and poor Afghans are forced to sell them.”

Sadat says the investigation he was part of identified two hospitals in Herat where kidney transplant operations take place; one of them said it had completed 194 operations and the other said 32, but more than 500 people were claiming to have sold their kidney, 100 from a single village in Herat. “This shows the kidneys were taken outside Afghanistan,” says Sadat.

“For example, a kidney is purchased for 300,000 afghani (£2,100) inside Afghanistan, and it is sold for more than £7,500 to £11,000 outside the country,” says Sadat.

“We found evidence that some are encouraged to sell their kidneys, taken outside the borders, and their kidneys are sold for 200,000 to 400,000 afghanis ,” says Sadat. “It seems that the doctors are involved in the illegal trade. But unfortunately, our investigation was stopped due to a worsening security situation.”

Sardar Muhammad, who sold his kidney, shows the scar
Another Herat camp resident, Sardar Muhammad, who sold his kidney, shows the scar from the surgery. Photograph: Mstyslav Chernov/AP

Two months have passed since Rahmati’s kidney operation, and the money has already gone to pay off medical debt. Her recovery from the operation continues to go badly.

“I am so sick. I couldn’t even walk because the wound has been infected. It is very painful,” she says, adding that the recipient of her kidney only paid for the operation fee, two nights in hospital and her first medicine bill.

On the day of the transplant, Rahmati was sick and the doctors refused to operate. “I couldn’t breathe properly, so the doctors took me down from the hospital bed, but I returned. I told them ‘I am happy with my own death, but I can’t tolerate seeing my children hungry and ill’,” she says.

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Airlines should start paying for CO2 sooner

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Airlines flying from one European destination to another should start paying for all their carbon emission from 2026, a year earlier than planned, according to a draft report by Croatian centre-right MEP Sunčana Glavak seen by Reuters. The Commission earlier proposed to phase out free CO2 permits by 2027. “We must support innovation in the sector and the use of sustainable aviation fuels,” she said.

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