Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Vaccines became the clear way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Michael Joiner, 360info)

COVID-19 has pushed global health to the centre of international politics

By: Tasha Wibawa and Karthik Nachiappan

A lapse in public health diplomacy, long sidelined to seemingly more pressing issues of international trade and security, saw many parts of the world caught off guard when the virus spread.

As countries looked domestically to fight the virus, not one state was prepared to take a lead to assist the World Health Organization (WHO) in crafting a unified global strategy.

Inequalities in domestic and international healthcare, access to medical equipment and intellectual property (IP) for vaccines have never been more obvious.

Globalisation and increased mobility helped spread the disease, with state borders no longer an effective barrier to domestic health security.

Vaccines became the clear way out of the pandemic, but “vaccine nationalism” became the norm.

And most COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property rights are owned by Western pharmaceutical giants.

Low-income countries with low vaccinations have called on the World Trade Organization to waive IP protections, with no clear resolution to date.

As the WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote, “vaccine allocation must not become a zero-sum game.”

“Limited supplies and overwhelming demand create winners and losers. Neither is morally or medically acceptable during a pandemic.”

The unintended consequences of which has been a ‘vaccine apartheid’ which has left billions of people in poor countries unvaccinated and created opportunities for the virus to mutate.


Around 27 million COVID-19 vaccines are being administered each day, but most are going to middle-to-high-income countries

According to Our World in Data as of 1 December 2021

– 3 percent, or 19.98 million people, in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated,

– Compared to 67.9 percent, or 821.9 million people, in high-income countries.

– High-income countries with around 16 percent of the world’s population are stockpiling 60 percent of the global vaccine supply, according to World Health Organization Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.


These quotes can be attributabed to Vijay Chattu, President and CEO, Global Health Research and Innovations Canada.

“Health is connected to the economy – health is a core of all sustainable development goals, particularly in inequality and equity.”

“Health should not be a political issue but it’s been politicised in the domain of geopolitics.”

“Every country is doing health diplomacy in their own terms so there are many different approaches, but it’s not real health diplomacy if there are vested interests.”

These quotes can be attributable to Obijor Aginam, Principal Visiting Fellow at the United Nations University-International Institute for Global Health.

“Health is very politicised, and follows the strategic, security and economic interest of countries.”

“It starts as a health problem but becomes a security issue because of opportunities offered by global travel and the transfer of goods and services.”

These quotes can be attributable to Hannah Elyse Sworn, Senior Analyst at Nanyang Technological University.

“China has … endorsed flexible IP regulations advocated by the developing countries who are its most important economic partners.”

“In the negotiation of IP regulations, the world’s most powerful states use their economic clout to establish rules that disproportionately benefit them. But in the latest discussions over COVID-19 vaccinations, evidence is emerging that US-EU regulatory hegemony may not be as robust as was presumed.”

(Obijiofor Aginam, United Nations University-International Institute for Global Health, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And Vijay Kumar Chattu – Global Health Research and Innovations Canada (GHRIC), Toronto, Canada)

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