“We're probably closer to the beginning than to the end of this pandemic,” said Krishna Udayakumar, founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.
Udayakumar hosted an Oct. 12 webinar entitled "The COVID-19 Endgame: Where are we headed, and when will we get there?" The event featured three distinguished leaders in global health who discussed how the future of the COVID-19 pandemic looks drastically different across the globe.
Ann Lindstrand, unit head for the Essential Programme of Immunization at the World Health Organization, was optimistic in describing the 6.5 billion vaccination doses delivered worldwide as an “amazing achievement” but critical of inequities in rollout.
“It's something that the world has accomplished, which we should be proud of. What we are not proud about is the appalling inequity of who has these vaccines and who does not have the vaccines,” Lindstrand said.
Lindstrand explained that the amount of administered doses in high income countries is 32 times greater than doses in low-income countries.
COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access aims to reduce this inequality. Lindstrand’s work with this worldwide initiative has included delivering guidance and tools, as well as monitoring data collection to facilitate countries’ safe administration of vaccines.
“In a very very short time, the next three to six months, the map of access of who has [vaccines] will largely be rewritten,” Lindstrand said.
Ayoade Alakija, co-chair of the African Union's African vaccine delivery alliance, who Udayakumar described as a “strong voice for the Global South,” had a less optimistic view than Lindstrand.
“As I looked at the title of this session, ‘what is the endgame,’ it really depends. I thought it really depends on where in the world you're sitting,” Alakija said. “If you're in the [United States], the [United Kingdom], the [European Union] and other countries in the world, you're looking at a very positive end game. COVID is over, or it’s beginning to be over at least, and life is beginning to be normal, and you're heading into the Roaring Twenties. You know, the lovely short dresses are coming back, and you know, you're swinging and you're going to parties.”
But low-income nations are facing a very different reality: “a world where COVID-19 is going to become your future,” Alakija said.
“COVID-19 is going to become the disease of Africa, the disease of the low-income countries of the world,” Alakija continued. “For us in Africa, the continent perhaps where eventually they will say the deadliest variant of all emerged, it will only emerge because the world failed to do what was right in the moment that it was supposed to do it.”
Alakija explained that countries in Africa have been running their own successful vaccination programs for decades, yet global organizations continue to treat the continent with a “charity model, not a partnership model,” which feels “colonial” and “paternalistic.”
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Lindstrand agreed that all parties ought to lay down their “organizational hats” and genuinely listen to each other’s needs. Alakija added that groups should collaborate to lead the charge rather than continue to fight.
In Nigeria, only 5.15 million people have been vaccinated out of a population of approximately 210 million, according to Alakija. She believes this low number is a result of “vaccine nationalism”—how every country has approached this pandemic in a selfish manner, rather than one of global solidarity.
“We should have all come together,” Alakija said. “But it's been about keeping those who are down further down, and giving booster doses to those in rich countries, so I'm afraid the end game looks very different, wherever you're sitting, and for us, the end game looks very, very bleak indeed.”
Alberto Valenzuela, executive director of the Pan American and Parapan American Games Special Legacy Project in Peru, provided the middle-income country perspective.
Valenzuela worked with the Peruvian Ministry of Health during the height of the pandemic, during which they were able to rapidly build makeshift hospitals and supply nearly 30 tons of oxygen equipment per day to the facilities. He explained that this success can be attributed to the cooperation of public and private organizations.
“Collaboration between public and private entities has been growing over the last 10 or 12 months. I think I would say that we have been learning how this collaboration improves the construction of a health system,” Valenzuela said.
When asked about what Duke students can do with regards to ending the pandemic, all three speakers emphasized the importance of young people being agents of change, as they remembered how passionate they felt about making a difference when they were new to the field.
Madeleine Berger is a Trinity sophomore and a university news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.