Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo is among 140 current and former world leaders calling for “a people’s vaccine” against the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The leaders signed a petition on Thursday in which they urged all governments to push for a free COVID-19 vaccine for all when developed.
President of South Africa and Chairman of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa; his Senegalese and Ghanaian counterparts, Macky Sall and Nana Akufo-Addo, respectively, are among the signatories.
The petition was initiated by the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations agency dedicated to eradicating the HIV/AIDS virus.
Obasanjo, who led Nigeria as a civilian Head of State between 1999 and 2007, is a member of the Champion for an AIDS- Free Generation.
In the petition, the leaders demand that when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, it should be made available free of charge to all.
According to UNAIDS, the demand is the most ambitious position yet by world leaders “on what has become the most urgent quest in modern science”.
The petition came ahead of a virtual meeting of the World Health Assembly, the world’s highest health policy making body comprising health ministers from UN member states, holding on May 18.
“We are calling on Health Ministers at the World Health Assembly to rally behind a people’s vaccine against this disease urgently.
“Governments and international partners must unite around a global guarantee which ensures that, when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge.
“The same applies for all treatments, diagnostics, and other technologies for COVID-19,” they said.
The petitioners noted that the world would be safer only when everyone could benefit from the science and access a vaccine, “and that is a political challenge”.
“We must heed the warning that ‘those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
“We must learn the painful lessons from a history of unequal access in dealing with disease such as HIV and Ebola.
“But we must also remember the ground-breaking victories of health movements, including AIDS activists and advocates who fought for access to affordable medicines for all,” they said.
Other signatories include former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown.
The demand comes as the world searches for a vaccine against the novel virus.
As of Thursday morning, the disease had infected no fewer than 4.4 million people and killed more than 300,000 others, according to the World Health Organisation(WHO).
On April 24, the WHO in collaboration with world leaders launched what they call Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator.
ACT Accelerator seeks to speed up the development, production and equitable distribution of COVID-18 drugs, tests kits and vaccines around the world.
The petitioners called for a mandatory worldwide sharing of all COVID-19-related knowledge, data and technologies with a pool of COVID-19 licenses freely available to all countries.
“Countries should be empowered and enabled to make full use of agreed safeguards and flexibilities in the WTO Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health to protect access to medicines for all
“We call for an agreement that establishes a global and equitable rapid manufacturing and distribution plan, that is fully-funded by rich nations, for the vaccine and all COVID-19 products and technologies that guarantee transparent ‘at true cost-prices’ and supplies according to need.
“Action must start urgently to massively build capacity worldwide to manufacture billions of vaccine doses,” they demanded.
The leaders also called for urgent steps to recruit and train millions of paid and protected health workers needed to deliver them.