Sexual violence in conflict: the war crime no one talks about 

Sexual violence in conflict: the war crime no one talks about 

Sexual violence in conflict: the war crime no one talks about 

women holding hands
Rachael Kenny

22nd June 2021

 

Sexual violence in conflict is the war crime that no one wants to talk about. The brutal stories of women and children who are targeted during times of conflict are disturbing and unimaginable. Unfortunately, the truth of what is taking place across the globe is uncomfortable to hear but that does not mean that it should ignored. Sexual violence in conflict has been used for centuries as a tactic of war and terror and continues to be used today. Women and girls are mainly targeted but men and boys also suffer their plight. The cost of war is great but the cost of war against women and girls is incalculable. 

 

In Our Bodies: Their Battlefield, What War Does to Women, war reporter Christina Lamb spoke to survivors across four continents about their experiences of sexual violence in conflict. Lamb uncovered the astonishing suffering of girls and women in war. Lamb met with the Yazidi survivors of ISIS in 2016 and learned stories from young women who had been bought and sold, raped, and traded dozens of times by ISIS fighters who were intent on terminating their people. In the case of the Yazidi, often ISIS fighters rape and impregnate women and hold them prisoner until their babies are born. This tactic is used for creating a new generation of ISIS and eliminating the Yazidi. Lamb uncovered stories of girls as young as 8 years old being enslaved by ISIS, tortured, and raped.

 

“One survivor Lamb spoke to, Turko, revealed that women and girls are being traded on the internet alongside PlayStation consoles and second-hand cars.”

Turko was sold from her first captor to her second for 350 dollars. At the hands of her second captor, she was raped by a different Syrian every day for months and often thought of killing herself. In 2017 a military crackdown on the Rohingya people by Myanmar’s armed forces began which has since been described as close to genocide. Lamb spoke with survivors of sexual violence as they fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Women recounted stories of their children being killed in front of their eyes, which was followed by these women being tied to banana trees and gang raped. Often the acts of sexual violence were so gruesome that some women did not survive.  

 

Turko’s story and the story of the Rohingya survivors only scratch the surface of the reality of sexual violence in conflict. Although the stories that Lamb has uncovered and published are uncomfortable to read, they are important, and it is crucial that they are heard. The truth of what is happening with regards to sexual violence in conflict to thousands across the globe is horrendous. It is no longer a case where people are being taken advantage of amidst the chaos of war. These acts of sexual violence are deliberate and targeted. Unfortunately, it is easy to use rape or sexual violence as a weapon of war as it is effective and it does not cost anything.  

 

The survivors of sexual violence in conflict suffer not only physical injuries but psychological traumas too. Survivors are often faced with stigmatisation and rejection by their families and communities when they return home. As a result of this, many do not report the crimes. The U.N. estimates that for everyone rape reported in connection with a conflict, a further 10 to 20 cases go undocumented.  

 

The General Assembly’s 2015 resolution proclaimed 19 June as International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This is a day to condemn and call for the end of sexual violence in conflict which includes rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and enforced prostitution. This day honours victims and survivors and those who are fighting to end these terrorizing crimes. I urge you on this day, and every day, to learn and talk about sexual violence in conflict and overcome the discomfort it brings to you. The discomfort it will bring you to read about is no comparison to the unimaginable toll that conflict-related rape and sexual violence takes on its victims and survivors. Their scars are everlasting. 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo created using Canva

This article was supported by: STAND Programme Assistant Rachel

 

The wild and crumbling Atlantic Way: Donegal’s mica crisis is out of our government’s reach

The wild and crumbling Atlantic Way: Donegal’s mica crisis is out of our government’s reach

The wild and crumbling Atlantic Way: Donegal’s mica crisis is out of our government’s reach 

house in Donegal country side with cracks
Rachel McGonigle

14th June 2021

 

Imagine this: on the glorious green of Ireland’s northwest coast you meet your future husband. You get married, buy a plot of land and start building your dream home. A few years later, you can finally move in, just in time for your first-born child’s arrival. You paint and furnish with an array of red curtains and yellow cushion covers, only reminiscent of the early 2000s, until your heart is content with the place you now call home. It’s your safe haven, your everything. It’s 2004 and apart from the imminent struggles of the financial crash which make you contemplate up and leaving your cherished home for a country offering greater stability, Donegal is where your heart belongs. Within the four walls that offer you shelter and warmth, the walls which will host every birthday celebration and death condolence, you are protected from the elements of the wild Atlantic coast. When your children are homesick while in college, they will always find comfort and security here. Nowhere else can offer you the emotional comfort and stability that your first home can. That is until the cracks begin to show, deepening and widening with every gust of wind and raindrop that the coastline has to offer. It’s 2010 and you wake up panicking in the night with the realisation that your forever home is falling down around you.  

 

Inishowen, Donegal’s most northerly peninsula, and surrounding areas (and some parts of Mayo) are existing through the worst localised humanitarian crisis of recent times. As homes were being built during the late 1990s and early 2000s, hopeful newlyweds were unaware of the catastrophic issues that would face them some fifteen years down the line.

 

“Locals recall noticing cracks in the plaster of their walls, both inside and out. But, as ignorance is best served with a side dish of bliss, these cracks were suspected to be nothing more significant than settling cracks, as the properties relaxed into their picturesque surroundings with views of Lough Swilly.”

 

However, there are only so many servings of ignorance that can be swallowed before you burst from worry with the ultimate acceptance that something more sinister is wrong with the infrastructure of your home.  

 

Locally sourced concrete building blocks from as early as the 1980s have, of recent years, been found to be disproportionately mixed with high quantities of mineral mica, which weakens the concrete over time and causes the blocks to disintegrate and crumble. Worsened by dramatic weather conditions, which all north-westerly homes are not shy to, it is estimated that over 5,000 private homes and many more council and social homes have been infected with the defective blocks. An almost taboo subject in the 2010s, something to be embarrassed by and ashamed of, accepting that your home is inescapably crumbling down around you is not a reality anyone ever wanted to face. But the reality is that the number of family homes impacted by these defective blocks continues to rise. If not your own, then it’s your neighbour’s house, your brother’s or sister’s. Every life in the north of Donegal has been impacted by the money-saving, material-stretching tactics of family trade from over twenty years ago.  

 

The cracks widen. Gaps appear around windows and doorframes, exposing your family to the elements. Moisture ingression puts your furnishings at risk of growing mould. Just down the road, another woman’s son cries to his teacher that Mammy and Daddy are worried, and he now sleeps in his sister’s bedroom because his could fall in on him at any minute. It’s not safe to stay in here anymore; you need to get out. But it’s not so simple. On top of the psychological burden of leaving, the financial burden is insurmountable. 

 

In January 2020, the Irish government launched a redress grant scheme that would cost hundreds of millions of euros to rebuild the houses affected by defective blocks. The scheme, which was to be administered by respective county councils predominately in Donegal and Mayo, would give homeowners up to €275,000 if found that their house must be entirely demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. If your house doesn’t require complete demolition, then you’re unfortunately eligible for substantially less funding. The scheme was developed following years of campaigning by the Mica Action Group who brought light to the situation. In 2016, Prime Time revealed that the defective building blocks sold and bought in Donegal were not fit for purpose. The next year, a government-appointed expert panel found the blocks currently in use from the same supplier also not fit for purpose. Although the scheme was originally welcomed with open arms, a step in the right direction, it too is ultimately not fit for purpose.

 

“To be accepted onto the grant system, stressed parents and worried owners of these crumbling homes must pay a minimum of €5,000 for an engineer to confirm that the blocks are defective. All it takes is one look and it’s obvious that these buildings are no stronger than the box of Weetabix.”

This charge is one part of the current scheme, which will eventually reimburse you with 90% of your total expenses, leaving you, the heartbroken homeowner, liable to cover the remaining 10%. The scheme also only allows the exact same sized building frame to be reconstructed and one house can hold only one application, meaning if you apply and successfully rebuild but are met with the same trauma again a few years later, you cannot reapply. Donegal’s homeowners deserve more, 100% redress and no less. 

 

In recent weeks and months, an outcry has poured from the hills attempting to beckon the attention of the Irish Government. Stemming from a place of sheer frustration, the mica crisis can be compared to the pyrite scandal which hit the east of the country in recent years. When pyrite is exposed to moisture and oxygen, a series of chemical reactions occur leading to the cracking and heaving of ground floors and walls where the expansion is in highly compacted areas, such as dwellings. In response to these structural damages, the government put in place the Pyrite Remediation Scheme which covers 100% of the costs of repairing affected homes. What is the difference between a house in Dublin infected with pyrite and a house in Donegal infected with mica? How can our government condone anything shy of 100% remedial funding for a family home crumbling down around young children forced to share a bedroom, a retired couple who retreated to the Atlantic coast in search for serenity and peace or a newlywed husband and wife settling in fear that their home is now worthless? The answer: the short 150-mile distance from Inishowen to Dublin is a long enough stretch for our government to ignore a crisis stripping people of their human right to adequate and safe housing 

 

Although the suppliers of these defective blocks are at fault, the gravity to which our government is failing the affected counties is unsurprising, yet heart-wrenchingly frustrating. Just last week, following a presentation on the mica crisis, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar questioned whether it is reasonable to ask the taxpayer to fund the reconstruction of quite large houses given that the average cost of fixing pyrite affected homes was just €65,000. Described as being utterly “out of touch with reality”, the Tánaiste’s comments are a “calculated distraction by portraying the situation as affecting rich homeowners”, according to Cllr Jack Murray.  

 

thousands gathered at Buncrana's Shore Front to protest

 

And so, you take to the streets and protest for your voice to be heard. You’re just one family of thousands whose forever home is cracking at the seams. Over 10,000 people gathered on Buncrana’s Shore Front two weeks ago to demonstrate that they will not be forgotten, and a further 1,500 protested in Letterkenny. Although these demonstrations gained attention and showed the resilience of Donegal’s people, it wasn’t enough. Your house is crumbling and so is your hope. 

 

To show support for families affected by the mica crisis, you can join the thousands of protesters who are expected to march up to the gates of Dáil Éireann on Tuesday 15th June if it is safe for you to do so. If our government won’t acknowledge an issue too far beyond their reach, then the forgotten homeowners in Donegal will bring the problem to their doorstep. Donegal and other affected areas deserve a 100% redress scheme, and no less.  

 

 

 

 

Featured photo created using Canva + second photo author’s own

 

India’s Covid-19 inferno: What went wrong?

India’s Covid-19 inferno: What went wrong?

India’s Covid-19 inferno: What went wrong?

doctor sitting on floor with mask
Ellen Coburn

8th June 2021

 
 

During the onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic, epidemiologists predicted that “India could see the worst of it”. As home to some of the world’s most crowded cities with a population of over 1.3 billion people coupled with an ailing healthcare system, it seemed as though India was the perfect kettle of fish for the coronavirus to cast its deadly net over. Yet, the first wave of the pandemic saw India spared from the harrowing scientific prophecy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi swiftly announced a nationwide lockdown of the entire population for three weeks in early 2020 which, at the time, was the most severe step taken anywhere in the world. While this decisive action proved effective, it seems as though a false sense of normalcy crept back into society as in October 2020, the Indian government scientists speculated India had reached herd immunity and in January 2021 Prime Minister Modi spoke at the World Economic Forum declaring the virus had been defeated. Subsequently, big religious gatherings went ahead, public places were reopened and crowded election rallies were held without adequate social distancing or hygiene measures. Thus, the Covid-19 tsunami that crashed onto the shores of India ensued and with it not only a public health emergency, but a humanitarian crisis.

 

What was to come in 2021 were stories of no oxygen for hospitalised patients, bodies burning on pyres in the streets, bodies washing up on the banks of rivers, mass cremations and intensely overwhelmed hospitals. 

 

“Only, these are not just stories. This is real life. This devastating situation accentuates the fact that there is no room for complacency in the face of a deadly virus while simultaneously showing how India’s unfolding humanitarian crisis exacerbates its underlying human rights issues.”

But before this is explored, what caused such a colossal increase in Covid-19 cases in India in the first place? It is difficult to attribute the surge to one factor alone. Rather, it seems as though a myriad of elements fused together to create what the World Health Organization has dubbed “the perfect storm”. The daily case numbers in India began rising towards the end of February 2021 after continuing to fall since September 2020. The spike in cases came as one coronavirus variant found to be circulating in India, the B1617 variant which has two mutations, became more prominent and began spreading rapidly throughout the densely populated country. What seems to have aggravated the situation further however, was the holding of political rallies, religious celebrations and vaccine shortages, all of which created the ideal breeding ground for this more infectious and deadly disease to proliferate indiscriminately.  

 

The Vice President of the Indian Medical Association, Dr Navjot Dahiya, labelled Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “super spreader” of the virus after enabling political rallies to take place and allowing religious festival celebrations to occur while India was on its knees recording record-breaking daily infections. In April, millions of people gathered in Uttarakhand’s city of Haridwar to take a holy dip in the river Ganges as part of the Hindu festival Kumbh Mela. Festival goers for the most part, failed to follow Covid-19 hygiene measures and it later emerged that over 2,642 devotees tested positive for the virus, including numerous religious leaders. Critics of the Prime Minster claim that his reluctance to call off the gathering was due to the backlash that he could potentially face from Hindu religious leaders, who are amongst the most important and influential supporters of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, particularly during election times.  

 

As election rallies continued to go ahead around the country, the rate at which the coronavirus was multiplying continued to accelerate. Thousands of people gathered in West Benegal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu for a series of state elections that saw Covid-19 guidelines largely flouted. As Modi allowed such mass gatherings to take place, it becomes difficult to ignore the possibility that his government’s handling of the pandemic, particularly India’s devasting second wave, is largely characterised by self-serving political interests as opposed to public health and safety. 

 

In an interview for the BBC, Dr Ramanan Laxminarayan, director of the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, declares that India’s Covid-19 outbreak is the “worst humanitarian crisis” he has witnessed. In a country that is generally one not poorly endowed, Dr Laxminarayan continues, there are shortages of beds, drugs and testing is not readily available in some of the country’s best hospitals as people continue to suffocate from lack of oxygen on the streets and, as bodies wash up on the banks of the river Ganges due to an overflow in the country’s crematoriums.   

 

Solidarity with the humanitarian crisis in India has been seen around the globe including from Ireland who sent 700 oxygen concentrators supplied through the European Civil Protection Mechanism. However, while international donors are raising millions, Modi’s government passed an amendment in September 2020 with little warning that limits international charities who donate to local non-profits. As reported in the New York Times, the amendment gutted reliable sources of funding for countless NGOs that were already “stretched thin” by the pandemic. It prompted international charities to reduce donations that supported local efforts in areas such as health and education. When India urgently needed international donations, Modi’s government seem to have put the nail in the coffin. Moreover, alarmingly Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister spoke about utilising India’s oppressive National Security Act against people who speak out on social media about the lack of medical supplies. The authorities in Uttar Pradesh went onto file criminal charges against a man who pleaded on Twitter for oxygen for his dying grandfather. The same authorities also sent notices of complaint to three journalists who reported that oxygen supplies had been diverted from a district suffering heavily with the coronavirus and sent elsewhere.  

 

Right when Modi’s government should be upholding the rights of citizens the most, it seems that censorship has defined the majority of actions taken against those desperately seeking help online. The humanitarian crisis India has witnessed has exacerbated underlying human and civil rights issues as well as governmental flaws in their dealing with the pandemic. But this is not the only thing it has underlined. As restrictions behind to relax all over Europe, I cannot help but wonder, will the public health emergency witnessed in India have a successor? Complacency is a dangerous game to play in times like these and as we all know, if you play with fire, you will inevitably get burned.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Mulyadi on Unsplash

This article was supported by: Programme Assistant Rachel

 

More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar in preparation for the World Cup 2022

More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar in preparation for the World Cup 2022

More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar in preparation for the World Cup 2022

black and white football net
Laoise Darragh
18th May 2021
 
 

 

The fact that migrants are being exploited in the building of the Qatar World Cup 2022 is not a new discovery. However, a recent report by the Guardian has revealed that over 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar during the construction of Qatar World Cup infrastructure including stadiums, an airport, roads, public transport, hotels and an entire new city. The majority of these workers came to Qatar from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.  

 

The Guardian report unveiled that an average of 12 migrant workers have died each week since 2010. The official cause of death in most cases was said to be “natural causes”.  Based on data obtained by the Guardian, 69% of deaths among Indian, Nepali and Bangladeshi workers were categorised as natural. Among Indian migrants, this increases to 80%. Despite the fact that almost none of these workers had prior underlying health conditions, the Qatari Government stated that “The mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population. However, every lost life is a tragedy, and no effort is spared in trying to prevent every death in our country.” 

 

As well as revealing the shocking statistics of the deaths of these workers, the Guardian report described a number of case studies of individuals and families whose lives have been impacted by the devastating data coming from Qatar. The family of Ghal Singh Rai from Nepal paid over €1,000 in recruitment fees for his job as a cleaner in a camp for workers building one of the stadiums. He took his own life less than a week after his arrival to Qatar. Ghal’s father had sensed that something was wrong and told his son to come home if he could not handle the stress and conditions of the job. Another worker, Mohammad Shahid Miah from Bangladesh, was electrocuted in his worker accommodation after water came into contact with exposed electricity cables. The family of Indian worker Madhu Bollapally cannot comprehend how the healthy 43-year old died of “natural causes” while working in Qatar. He had already passed away when he was found by his roommate lying on their dorm room floor. His family, including a 13 year old son, received around €1,300 in compensation and his salary was not paid. 

 

In an NPR Podcast Interview, the journalist who conducted the Guardian report, Pete Pattisson, explained that these figures do not include those who are injured or collapse on construction sites and died after they are taken off-site or those who die in road traffic accidents on the way to or from work in a company bus. He also explained that autopsies are very rare, and that although the long hours and extreme heat play a role in the high number of deaths, the picture is incomplete and there is more at play here. Often the workers live in terrible conditions in camps far away from work, with 8-12 people sharing a room. Pattisson described the World Cup as a “catalyst” for the history of abuse of migrant workers in the Middle East.  

 

Although there have been reformations of labour laws in Qatar that mean workers no longer need permission from their employer if they want to change jobs, the Shura council of Qatar have put forward a number of recommendations that would remove this and other reformations that have been put in place. In a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Amnesty International calls for FIFA to use their influence on the Qatari government to ensure that all of the proposed labour reforms are fulfilled. A spokesperson for Amnesty stated that FIFA “must act now to ensure that the 2022 World Cup is a tournament to be proud of, and not one tainted by labour abuses.” The European Parliament has questioned Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on his views surrounding the Guardian report, and what actions will be taken surrounding the report.  

 

“The company, which supplied grass for the World Cup in Germany (2006), the European Championship in Switzerland (2008) and the European Championship in France (2016), withdrew their services due to the inhumane conditions and human rights violations faced by migrant workers in Qatar.”

Dutch Company ‘Hendriks Graszoden’ was set to supply grass sod for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.  A spokesperson for the company explained that their decision to withdraw is “certainly a loss for the company. But sometimes you have to make a decision on ethical grounds. ”  

 

Football players around the world have stood in protest of the human rights violations evident in Qatar. Norway, Germany and Netherlands footballers have protested Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers. Norweigan players wore t-shirts stating “HUMAN RIGHTS” and “On and off the pitch”. The Netherlands team wore t-shirts with the words “Football supports change” written on them. German players wore black t-shirts with a letter each spelling out “HUMAN RIGHTS”. However, officials from its football association stated that it was opposed to boycotting the World Cup. Belgium manager Roberto Martínez  has also stated that boycotting the World Cup would be a “big mistake”. The Football Association of Ireland (FAI) have been urged by Amnesty International Ireland and Bohemian F.C. to take a stance and put pressure on FIFA to use its position to protect migrant workers.  

 

Despite these protests and calls for reform, FIFA have not spoken up about this issue and migrant workers continue to be exploited and killed in preparation for the Qatar World Cup 2022.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Shapelined on Unsplash

This article was supported by: STAND Humanitarian Editor Amyrose + Programme Assistant Rachel

 

Kids in cages: Biden’s end to his predecessor’s policies causes surge in cross-border migration

Kids in cages: Biden’s end to his predecessor’s policies causes surge in cross-border migration

Kids in cages: Biden’s end to his predecessor’s policies causes surge in cross-border migration

US Mexican border
Emily Murphy

13th May 2021

 
 

 

“Kids in cages” is a phrase we are all unfortunately accustomed to hearing. The migrant crisis and border policies dominated Donald Trump’s presidency, and images of children crowded into tiny, wired confines have since been associated with the former administration. Throughout the past four years and the 2020 campaign, many, including Joe Biden, were incredibly vocal regarding their disapproval, calling for the closure of the facilities and the reunification of migrant families. Only a few months into his term, Biden has made the controversial decision to reopen many of the centers, citing COVID-19 and social distancing as the justification. The President has been accused of using the current virus as an opportunity to continue the policies he helped instigate under the Obama administration; but is this really the case or is Biden just cleaning up the mess that Trump left behind?  

 

According to the United States Border Patrol, the spring of 2014 saw an unprecedented rise in the numbers of Central Americans crossing into the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. When they turned themselves over to U.S. agents, many cited poverty, violence, and unemployment as the reasons for making the journey. It was not uncommon for many groups to include teenagers and children as people had been told by smugglers that having children present when crossing the border typically assured the avoidance of deportation and lengthy detention. At the time, those claims were accurate. By May of the same year, more than 4,000 people were arriving daily and Border Patrol was completely overwhelmed. The holding cells quickly filled and agents began using “sally port”, the areas outside the stations, as holding pens. At this point, it was standard to see women and babies left on concrete floors, in 95-plus degree heat (35-degrees Celsius) for several hours at a time. 

 

When the conditions at the McAllen station became public, the Obama administration quickly began expanding its capacity, building infrastructure to handle single adult men only.  In July 2014, the new “Central Processing Center” (CPC) opened. It was a large, air-conditioned warehouse with chain-link fencing partitions to maximize and designate space. The center quickly became known as “la perrera” or “the dog kennel” due to the industrial, livestock nature of the operation. The facility was criticized at the time, but when Trump instigated his zero-tolerance policy in 2018, there was an international outcry. The policy ended after only six weeks. When Trump declared that families would no longer be separated, smugglers began ensuring people that children were a passport to the U.S, and a new wave began.

 

“On 22 March 2021, Texas Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar released images of a migrant facility in Donna. Some of these images included children sleeping on the floor under foil blankets. Concerns have been raised about the conditions of the centre, with activists suggesting that overcrowding and a lack of social distancing, as well as poor access to adequate food or soap supplies were major issues.”

Currently, the Donna facility is housing 1,000 people, and this follows a large increase in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border in the months since Biden has taken office. So far journalists have not been permitted to enter the facilities as they were during the Trump administration, however, lawyers representing the children, who have entered the facilities have described them as “cramped”. According to Cueller, migrants are supposed to be separated into ‘pods’ of 260 people, yet one of the pods in the Donna facility contained over 400 unaccompanied male minors. Cueller said that these children needed to be quickly moved from the facility into care and away from the “terrible conditions”. 

 

The surge in the number of migrants trying to cross the border has been blamed on Biden’s decision to end the policies put in place by his predecessor. Critics have said that this decision has only invited people to make the treacherous journey. Representative John Katko, R-NY, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, has said Biden’s rollback of policies that were working have “encouraged cartels to exploit the southern border”, and that the number of people being trafficked into America through Texas is only growing. While migrants have been turned away at the border due to COVID-19 restrictions, it is U.S. policy to take any unaccompanied minors into custody. These minors are to be placed in a migrant facility for a maximum of three days before being placed with a sponsor family, however, due to delays in the system, many children are spending significantly longer waiting for a placement. 

 

Many of the Trump-era facilities have been reopened at 100% capacity under the CDC (Center for Disease Control) advice, despite ongoing concerns regarding the coronavirus disease, and the CDCs own recommendations that people remain two meters apart to reduce the spread of infections. As of 22 April, according to the New York Times, shelters for migrant children were 13 days away from maximum capacity. Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, has said that holding the children in the border camps is “in our view, the right choice to make”, the alternative being to send them back. The U.S. government has said that it wants to work with the governments of Mexico and Guatemala to address the poverty, violence, and other root causes of the mass migration. 

 

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy has blamed the conditions on the “mess and wreck” inherited from the former Trump administration, saying that the conditions are “better than what we saw in 2019”. It seems that this attempt to place blame has not shifted the attention of the general public, with activists continuing to lobby President Biden, calling for more action and a better response before the situation becomes any worse.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash

This article was supported by: STAND Humanitarian Editor Amyrose 

 

 

Vaccine inequity: Why it exists + how to solve it

Vaccine inequity: Why it exists + how to solve it

HUMANITARIAN

Vaccine inequity: Why it exists + how to solve it

"I got my COVID-19 vaccine" sticker
Seán Sexton

10th May 2021

 
 
The race is on to get as many jabs as we can into the arms of the human population. This requires a global effort to immunize the entire population and prevent further infections. However, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, recently said that a mere 10 countries account for 75% of the total vaccines rolled-out, with 130 countries not having received any vaccines so far. 90% of those in low income countries will probably not receive a dose this year. Poorer countries are at a disadvantage to their more wealthier counterparts. There is a need to ensure that every country gets its fair share of doses, in a bid to drive down transmission and prevent further fatal mutations which could spread to other countries. It’s clear that a  global emergency requires a global solution; to end the vaccination gap between the global North and South. With that in mind, why is there such a disparity? What is at stake? How can we, Ireland, help out other countries in ensuring fairer distribution and overall improved vaccine equity?

 

The pandemic has exacerbated healthcare inequalities around the world, disproportionately affecting those in poorer countries. A grim figure suggests that if the 20 most vulnerable countries in the world had an active infection rate of 0.4%, these countries will run out of ICU beds. A study from the Imperial College indicates that low and lower-middle income countries are at a 32% increased risk of dying from the virus due to lack of access to treatment, high exposure to the virus and lack of protective measures. Distributing medical equipment, clean water and sanitation products to poorer rural regions of the world can be challenging. We also know that variants can impose strains on hospitals, as they mutate into more infectious forms. Poorer countries bear the brunt of the pandemic with more strains to their healthcare systems and already existing healthcare access inequities are widening.

 

Delivering vaccines to countries in conflict will also be an obstacle in achieving global inoculation. When examining outbreaks of infectious diseases, the risk is increased in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence. By the middle of 2022, only 2 out of 20 countries with the highest levels of conflict worldwide are forecasted to be largely vaccinated with the rest waiting until 2023 or later to be largely vaccinated. Policy measures which are supposed to curtail the virus have been weaponized by the conflict parties to increase state control and suppress opposition. For example, in Colombia, armed groups have taken over parts of the country and have threatened, killed and attacked people for breaching lockdown rules. This amplifies mistrust in people in power which could undermine the vaccine roll-out in their countries. It could also enable abuse of power, leading to unfair distribution of doses by the state. These countries have faced economic downturn, damaged healthcare infrastructure and lack of resources to ultra cold freezers, healthcare staff etc., all of which are necessary to set up a workable vaccination strategy. The logistical challenges in these countries makes it even more difficult to have fair vaccine equity.

 

“Refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants also face barriers in accessing vaccines. 80 million people are forced to be displaced in excess of 100 countries. This demographic group is more vulnerable to other population groups. Some live in refugee camps and deportation centres where there is little to no room to implement public safety measures.”

Furthermore, refugees also face unequal access to healthcare, increased risk of exploitation and poor working conditions. A disappointing 57% out of only 90 countries developing a vaccination programme are including refugees as a priority group. Many stateshave a history of discrimination and xenophobia, creating mistrust and warranting a more education-based approach to beat the stigma. Moreover, some  fear excluding other groups in place of displaced people in case controversy arises over vaccination rollout and order of priority. 

 

The vaccination disparity needs ambitious and innovative solutions to reduce accessibility issues . The access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator is designed to “accelerate development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines”, according to the World Health Organisation website. It was first set up after G20 called for a collaborative response to the pandemic back in March 2020. Some of the participating organisations involved include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, the World Bank and the Global Fund. This is an initiative set up with the help of scientists, philanthropists, governments, business and global health organisations. It aims to provide medium term solutions, reduce the spread, make tests and treatments more accessible and to restore economic activity and societal growth. Since its launch they have reviewed healthcare systems of over 100 countries, procured treatment for 2.9 million patients in relatively low income countries and plan to make 120 million diagnostic tests available for low income countries.

 

Within the ACT Accelerator, the COVAX pillar is established to end vaccine inequity by ensuring each country is able to inoculate 20% of their population. Co-led by WHO, Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) along with UNICEF, it pools a portfolio of 10 vaccines to eliminate competition and ensure a quicker and fairer distribution of doses. This involves negotiation with pharmaceutical companies on fairer prices to poorer countries, especially in the global South. Over 180 countries are participating in this scheme. It hopes to deliver 2 billion vaccines doses in 2021 with around 1.3 billion of those to low income countries. 92 low income countries benefit from this. However, a buffer of up to a maximum of 5% of each participating country’s stock is used as a backstop if their national vaccination programmes fail to reach certain populations such as displaced people and frontline workers.

 

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency has announced that they will work with Gavi to ensure that displaced migrants are prioritised in their countries’ national vaccination plans.  However, it is limited in terms of directly implementing vaccination programmes. UNHCR works with its partners to increase vaccination uptake and to support vaccination roll-out with refugees being considered. 

 

A European response has also been launched by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. The EU Vaccine Sharing Mechanism aims to permit EU member states to donate surplus vaccines to non-EU countries. In a continent with 450 million people, Europe has managed to secure 2.9 billion doses with plenty to share, albeit COVAX is considered the preferable route for pooling vaccines. ‘The Global Goal: Unite for Our Future’ was a summit to acquire €6.15 billion in additional funding for countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence, including €4.9 billion from the European Investment Bank, €485 million from the EU member states as well as pledges from non-EU countries like Canada and Japan and even private stakeholders like FIFA and Vodafone. The European Commission has successfully sourced around €15.9 billion as part of the Coronavirus Global Response.

 

These collaborative, multilateral projects are welcome in the midst of a global emergency. Both of them have received firm backing from the G7, with investment of around US$7.5 billion. The G20 are also under pressure to address the financing gap for COVID therapeutics and diagnostics. But the potential financial dividend makes economic sense; a successful vaccination programme which will save the global economy US$375 billion per month. 

 

There have been calls for a waiver of Trade and Intellectual Property Rules (TRIPs) for vaccines including from former president and UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson. She isn’t the only one  150 global leaders and Nobel laureates have signed an open letter to US president Joe Biden. With cases surging in India and other countries at the moment, there has also been increasing pressure in the Dáil for our government to support the waiver to no avail. The European Commission, the US and other high income countries have said that they oppose the patent waiver at a World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting held in March this year. Supporters argue that this waiver would allow countries all over the world, but especially in the global South, to manufacture vaccines and therefore increase vaccine supply and lower costs.  

 

If there is one thing is certain, it is this: vaccine nationalism only serves relatively wealthy nations. In the interest of a timely immunization, a two-pronged approach encompassing private deals with pharmaceutical companies, to cater for their own population and fair distribution of vaccines to vulnerable countries everywhere, for the greater public good. But, successful vaccine equity distribution is also underpinned by public trust and peaceful governance, especially in countries which have been damaged by the state. This sentiment is even shared by Simon Coveney, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who emphasized, at the UN Security Council meeting held in February 2021, the need to uphold ceasefires and pause hostilities to allow humanitarian aid. We also need to make sure to tackle misinformation and to educate people on the facts about the virus and the vaccine. Ireland has now a seat on the UN Security Council and is a member of the EU. Our potential global imprint is significant when we act collectively with other countries. We need to look outward and be an active global citizen: no one is safe until everyone is safe.

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by Marisol Benitez on Unsplash

This article was supported by: STAND Humanitarian Editor Amyrose Forder