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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

30 November 2021

ESCAP ES

Excellency, Ms. Helen Clark, Co-chairperson of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response

Excellency, Mr. Dante Saksono Harbuwono, Deputy Minister of Health of Indonesia

Excellency, Mr. Dato’ Lim Jock Hoi, Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen, 

Welcome to our Regional Conversation on “Equitable Access to Vaccines, Diagnostics and Therapeutics.”  This is the most urgent, relevant and timely issue facing us right now.

This is the third event of our 2021 Regional Conversation series. These events focus on priority areas where ESCAP can support member States in their post-COVID-19 recovery efforts and their journey towards achieving the SDGs.  

As of mid-November 2021, according to the latest WHO data, there were more than 253 million confirmed COVID-19 cases globally, and the mounting death toll exceeded 5 million people. About 60 per cent of the world’s registered COVID-19 cases and about 50 per cent of the world’s COVID-19 related deaths were in our region.

The pandemic has affected every country in the region. It has brought tremendous suffering and loss and affected all aspects of its societies and economies.

The continuing roll-out of vaccines offers hope. As of mid-November 2021, about 7.3 billion vaccine dosages have been administered globally, with about 3 billion fully vaccinated people.

In Asia and the Pacific, the roll-out has been uneven. Some countries have vaccinated large proportions of their populations, while others lag behind. There are still too few doses available for import because many vaccines are available only in advance countries.

Some countries have benefitted from bilateral arrangements with countries that manufacture vaccines in the region. Others have relied on supplies from COVAX, but donations and supplies to COVAX facilities have not kept pace with demand.

Indeed, a surge in COVID-19 cases in recent months, often related to more virulent strains of the virus and relaxed restrictions, highlights the urgency of expanding and ramping up vaccination programmes. The new Omicron strain, just labelled a ‘variant of concern’ by WHO, is a case in point.  

Vaccine hesitancy due to misinformation and distrust has added to the problem and complexity.

The pandemic has also pointed to the acute need for increased investments to strengthen health systems and provide universal health coverage – where all people have easy and affordable access to health services without incurring financial hardship. 

The insufficient investments and weak health systems have contributed to higher mortality and slow vaccination roll-out in some Asian and Pacific countries. This is aggravated by a lack of testing facilities, diagnostics and therapeutics.

This, in turn, reminds us that while vaccines are an important tool in the fight against COVID-19, we need to pay equal attention to developing and providing access to faster and more accurate diagnostics and newly emerging medical treatments for COVID-19.

The inequities in the supply and distribution of vaccines have highlighted the potential role that regional cooperation can play to facilitate pooling of resources for joint research and manufacture of vaccines and therapeutics and to harmonize policies and procedures to smoothen the flow of life-saving goods. 

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

May I draw your attention to ESCAP resolution 77/1 of April 2021, ESCAP member States recognized that, to bring the pandemic to an end, every county must have universal, equitable and timely access to quality, safe, efficacious and affordable diagnosis, therapeutics, medicines, vaccines and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment, for the COVID-19 response.

As an engine of growth and innovation and a global leader in manufacturing, the Asia-Pacific region must soon safely open its borders to global travel, restore global supply chains and enable economic and social recovery.

Today, I have the honour to welcome high-level policymakers and distinguished experts from the region to discuss good practices, lessons learned and next steps in providing fast and equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

The objectives of the conversation are to:

  1. identify challenges to and initiatives in upscaling the production and       distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics;
  2. highlight aspects of health systems that need to be strengthened; and
  3. discuss how cooperation among various levels of governments, businesses and civil society could contribute to enhanced equity in access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics in the region

ESCAP will revisit this topic at its upcoming Commission session in May 2022, when we will commemorate our 75 years in Asia and the Pacific.

Following up on resolution 77/1 of 2021, may I remind everyone to be ambitious but equally realistic in making proposals and suggesting action. I look forward to your insights, and further deliberation as well as recommendations.  

Thank you very much. 

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