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World Health Day: Europe-wide mobilisation to defend access to vaccines

D 4 May 2021    


For the past 5 years, the European Network and People’s Health Movement have taken the opportunity of World Health Day to coordinate actions across Europe to remind authorities and citizens that health is a fundamental right. This year, the two networks have decided to support the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) Right2Cure to highlight a current issue: access to vaccines and treatments against COVID-19.

The lack of transparency in contracts with pharmaceutical companies, the lack of sharing of knowledge and technology related to the production of medical goods, and the existence of patents protecting intellectual property are all factors that prevent the widespread distribution of vaccines around the world. For an initiative to be considered as a concrete legislative change by the Commission, it needs to collect the signatures of one million citizens across the EU.

Actions across Europe
In Brussels, activists took actions outside the European Commission. Divided into two groups, one representing countries that will be able to vaccinate their population in 2021, and the other representing countries whose citizens will have to wait until 2023, the protesters represented the unequal access to vaccines around the world. Jasper Thys, Policy Officer at Viva Salud and member of the European Network said, “The worldwide movement for a people’s vaccine is growing by the day. On average, more than two-thirds of people in the UK, France, the US and Germany want governments to break up Big Pharma monopolies. It’s clear our movement is gaining track and changing the conversation. We have to keep the public pressure up so that everyone, everywhere gets access to the vaccines they need.”

In France, supported by trade unions and associations as well as the Réseau éducation sans frontières, Act Up, and the intermittent performers, around a hundred people gathered in Toulouse to demand resources for the public hospital, medicines, and a common good vaccine. In Italy, numerous activities were recorded across the country. In Bologna, activists organised distribution of flyers to raise awareness. “The current emergency has made it even more evident how access to health services and vaccinations is a necessity not only for the protection of individual health, but also to safeguard the health of the whole community, explains a coordinator from the Centre for International and Intercultural Health. However, at this time and age, access to treatment and preventive measures is not guaranteed to some people, also due to the economic interests of pharmaceutical companies. It is therefore necessary that health must be guaranteed to all people, regardless of legal, housing, economic status and country of origin."
In Germany and the Netherlands, in response to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, online actions were carried out on April 7. The Dutch trade union confederation (FNV) gathered more than 5,000 participants in a webinar on the commercialisation of health care. PHM Germany organised an international conference on access to vaccines for people in the South with contributions from South Africa, Brazil, India, and Germany. The panel discussed how the global community can successfully promote the right to health care and access to immunisation worldwide. In addition to the joy of vaccines, concern about the difficulties of organising the roll-out of immunisation dominated the discussions in the European media. But beyond the media’s interest, there is a distressing observation about the populations of the South who are currently particularly affected by the coronavirus and the measures taken against it. "Although politicians of all stripes emphasize the importance of vaccinating the entire population of the world, practically no solidarity is implemented," clarifies Dr. Christiane Fischer of PHM Germany.

Finally, organisations from North Macedonia, Georgia, and Croatia organised a webinar on the issue of health workers in the Caucasus and South-Eastern Europe during the COVID pandemic. In their view, " it is crucial to keep in mind the efforts which nurses, doctors, and other health workers have put into the pandemic response”. The organisations regret the poor working conditions of health workers in their region and call on leaders to quickly upgrade the work of the health sector.

To go further

If you want to join the movement, sign the Right2Cure European Citizens’ Initiative and share it with others: https://noprofitonpandemic.eu. One million signatures are needed for the Commission to consider these demands.
FNV’s webinar is available online https://www.fnv.nl/marktwerkingindezorg
Materials from the conference organised by PHM Germany: https://phmovement.de/downloads/

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