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Covid should prompt greater solidarity with others, says head of medical-supplies charity

14 May 2021

IHP

IHP medical supplies arrive at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the capital of the Sud-Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

IHP medical supplies arrive at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the capital of the Sud-Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Con...

THE Covid pandemic should prompt greater solidarity with people living in countries with fragile health-care systems, the head of a medical-supplies charity said this week.

Adele Paterson, the chief executive of International Health Partners (IHP), a Christian charity that serves as a bridge between donors in the pharmaceutical sector and NGOs delivering medicines to vulnerable communities, said on Tuesday that, while Covid had been “devastating” in the UK, she hoped that people might begin to wonder “what might happen elsewhere, where people don’t have this strong healthcare system, the resources, the political will or economic ability to support their communities”.

In February last year, IHP was able to supply a partner in China, Project HOPE, with 9000 face masks and 1785 overalls for use in Shanghai Children’s Medical Centre, and at Hubei Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Wuhan City. It has since started to supply syringes, saline, and other resources needed to deliver Covid vaccinations in countries including Lebanon.

But, at the early stages of the pandemic, IHP had been challenged by a turn inward among wealthier countries, Ms Paterson said. “We thought that people would understand very quickly that nations that don’t have strong health-care systems, that didn’t have the ability to support their communities with education or WASH [water, sanitation, hygiene] would be most vulnerable. But that didn’t happen. . .

“The thing that we found most difficult at first was a focus on their own countries; so where we would look to large organisations and companies to support, suddenly this pandemic that had been so far away came to their backyard, and, understandably, people became very focused on their own community, their own city, their own state. . . It was difficult to see that slight closing-down, that increased nationalism.”

IHP also faced logistical challenges, including the grounding of flights and border closures. But, by the end of the year, it had delivered four times as many treatments as in the previous year: almost six million treatments across 36 countries, worth £14.5 million.

This figure had already been matched by the end of April this year, Ms Paterson said. The growing need for the charity’s support was not just because of Covid, but a result of disasters, poor health situations, and mass people-displacement. Covid was not the only pandemic in 2020, she pointed out — there had been another outbreak of the Ebola virus.

Successes had included support for NGOs trying to deliver services in danger of being neglected as the focus shifted to Covid, from maternal health-care to medicines for chronic conditions, and cancer treatment. Almost half (43 per cent) of treatments donated to IHP were for neglected tropical diseases such as worms, which can cause stunted growth in children.

Set up in 2005, IHP works with more than 20 partners in the pharmaceutical centre and delivers only medical supplies requested by local partners around the world. “It’s really important for us that we respect the in-country expertise of the pharmacists and the medics,” Ms Paterson said. “When they say they want a particular medicine in a particular strength in a particular format, that’s what we give them.”

Despite pledges of solidarity — after meeting last week, the G7’s foreign ministers pledged to “enable equitable access globally for safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and reliable diagnostics necessary to end the acute phase of the pandemic and control future outbreaks” — poorer countries continue to struggle for a share of Covid vaccines.

In April, the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, said that, of more than 890 million vaccine doses administered globally, just 0.3 per cent had gone to low-income countries.

“Vaccine nationalism has weakened COVAX [the multi-lateral vaccine sharing programme], with a handful of rich countries gobbling up the anticipated supply as manufacturers sell to the highest bidder, while the rest of the world scrambles for the scraps,” he wrote in the New York Times. “It comes down to a simple choice: to share or not to share. Whether or not we do is not a test of science, financial muscle, or industrial prowess: it’s a test of character.”

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