Category Archives: Coronavirus

India’s child victims of COVID-19

'Children who have run away or have been abandoned are instantly faced with the prospect of violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse,' says Navin Sellaraju, CEO of Railway Children India [Photo courtesy of RCI]
‘Children who have run away or have been abandoned are instantly faced with the prospect of violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse,’ says Navin Sellaraju, CEO of Railway Children India [Photo courtesy of RCI

Last year, Shyam*, 17, became one of the thousands of children in danger of living on the streets of India.

Shyam’s father had abandoned his family in Gudhiyari – a village in Raipur in Chhattisgarh state – eight years earlier. Shyam’s older brother, Gopi, who was 16 at the time, had turned to alcohol to cope, subsequently becoming violent towards their mother, 47-year-old Kishori*.

To protect her and help support the family, Shyam dropped out of school when he was 10 and worked odd jobs as a dishwasher. But, unable to bear the stress and violence at home, he ran away in February 2020, in the hope of reaching Mumbai.

“I did go to school regularly,” Shyam explains. “But then my father left us and we did not know for a long time where he was.

“We found out through relatives that he had remarried. My mother worked several odd jobs to put food on the table. My brother turned to alcohol and would fight with her and beat her up. I felt I had no choice but to quit school to protect my mother from my brother and help her out. But then one day I fought with my brother and left home in anger. I thought I would go to Mumbai and look for work there,” he says.

India has the largest railway network in Asia. A 2009 study conducted by Railway Children India (RCI), a child rights organisation that helps at-risk youngsters at railway stations, street children and slum dwellers, found that 121,860 children were then at risk at 32 railway platforms across all 16 railway zones (there are 17 zones now).

This equals a child arriving alone at a big city railway station and being at risk every five minutes in India.

“These children have run away or have been abandoned and are instantly faced with the prospect of violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse,” says Navin Sellaraju, CEO of RCI.

Shyam was one of the “lucky” ones. He was rescued by The Railway Children (RCI). It picked him up at Raipur station and reunited him with his family. As a result, he was offered counselling and enrolled in a vocational training school in the neighbouring city of Durg which was being run by a local non-government organisation (NGO), Chetna Women and Children Society. His brother also received counselling.

But, then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and threw their lives back in disarray. Shyam was doing well until a nationwide, 21-day lockdown was implemented overnight on March 24, 2020, in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19. His mother, a domestic worker, and Gopi, a labourer, both lost their jobs. The RCI stepped in to help provide the family with groceries.

But, with India in the grip of the second wave of the pandemic, Kishori and Gopi are still out of work and the family is struggling to make ends meet. Kishori hopes that as soon as the lockdown eases, she can send Gopi back to the rehabilitation centre to continue with his addiction counselling.

Progress ‘undone’

Children in India, particularly those from marginalised communities, had it tough even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from the last Census in 2011 shows that India has 10.1 million child labourers.

More than 200,000 Indian children are working or living on the street, according to Save the Children’s 2019 Spotlight on Invisibles survey, which covered 10 cities in the country. Nearly 60 percent of these children are between the ages of six and 14.

Governmental organisations like the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the 24-hour child emergency helpline (Childline 1098), district-level child welfare committees (CWCs) and a vast network of collaborative organisations in the public and private sectors have worked to improve the standard of living of children in India and have made some great strides over the years.

However, they all agree that much of the progress made in addressing child labour, education, nutrition, mental health, prevention of domestic violence and child marriage has been undone by COVID-19.

“Financial instability in families, which can arise for a multitude of reasons, can quickly snowball into more dire situations,” explains Anurag Kundu, chair of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR). “These include eviction from homes for non-payment of rent, children dropping out of schools or running away, alcoholism, child labour, drug addiction or poor nutrition, leaving India’s children vulnerable to untold adversity and emotional trauma.”

The rise in child marriages

One form of adversity is child marriage.

On February 11, the Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), a Bengaluru-based grassroots organisation and one of the collaborators behind Childline 1098, received a phone call alerting them to an impending child marriage.

Sixteen-year-old Deepa Byrappa*’s parents intended to marry her to a 26-year-old man.

The APSA, along with representatives from the Bengaluru Urban CWC and the Byappanahalli police, in whose jurisdiction the marriage was going to happen, went to Deepa’s home. She told CWC workers that she did not want to get married but was being forced by her parents who said they would not need to meet the cost of a large wedding if she married during the COVID pandemic.

Deepa was placed in a government shelter until March 4, when her parents submitted a written undertaking that they would not have her married until she was of legal age (18). Deepa returned home – and was married off a few days later.

Childline was informed and legal proceedings initiated. The parents of the bride and the groom were arrested and today Deepa lives in a government-run girl’s shelter.

https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/6/3/india-covid-crisis-what-about-the

Revealed: 46m displaced people excluded from Covid jab programmes

Among those excluded are 5.6 million Colombians internally displaced by six decades of civil war
Among those excluded are 5.6 million Colombians internally displaced by six decades of civil war. Photograph: Raúl Arboleda/AFP/Getty Images

Tens of millions of asylum seekers, migrants, refugees and internally displaced people around the world have been excluded from national Covid-19 vaccination programmes, according to World Health Organization research seen by the Guardian.

The gaps mean that a scattered group numbering at least 46 million people, about the size of the population of Spain, may struggle to get vaccinated even if a global shortage of doses eases.

Among the excluded are 5.6 million people internally displaced by six decades of civil war in Colombia, hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kenya and Syria and nearly 5 million migrants in Ukraine.

India, Nigeria and Indonesia are among several large countries whose vaccination programmes exclude displaced people, according to the WHO’s review, which was conducted in March. Others, such as Pakistan, appear in the list but have since amended their plans to make them more inclusive.

International health groups have been considering the problem of excluded populations for months, and the groups behind the vaccine-sharing facility Covax approved the establishment in March of a channel of doses reserved as a source of last resort for the most vulnerable people in communities with no other pathway to a jab.

The channel, called the “humanitarian buffer”, will draw on 5% of the doses allocated to poor and lower-middle income countries through Covax, redirecting them toward the most vulnerable 20% in excluded communities, to be administered by NGOs such as Médecins Sans Frontières.

Covax has estimated a maximum of about 33 million people would be eligible for vaccines from the buffer, accounting for the most at risk within these groups – health workers, older people and those with risky co-morbidities. It is unclear when, if ever, others in these excluded communities will be vaccinated and from what source.

Humanitarian groups have said that even if all migrants, refugees and other vulnerable populations were included in national plans, there would still be between 60 and 80 million people living in rebel-held territories around the world who would be out of reach.

The WHO research illustrates the scale of the gaps within government schemes. More than 70% of the 104 vaccination plans reviewed excluded migrants, leaving out more than 30 million around the world, including 4.9 million people in India and 2.6 million in the Ivory Coast.

Nor did the majority of plans studied include refugees and asylum seekers, stranding nearly 5 million people without a shot, including 1.8 million in Colombia, 590,000 in Syria and 489,000 in Kenya.

About 11.8 million internally displaced people were also omitted from most plans, leaving out 2.7 million Nigerians and more than a million Indians, according to the research.

Public health experts have argued that exclusionary vaccine plans are ultimately self-defeating, leaving large pockets of the population unprotected and still able to contract and transmit the virus, including variants that may have the potential to evade the immunity granted by vaccines.

“As we learned from the outset of Covid-19 and all the restrictions put in place, availability of testing and access to healthcare for coronavirus, no one is safe until everyone is safe, and that is absolutely the same for vaccination programmes,” said Nadia Hardman, a researcher in refugee and migrant rights at Human Rights Watch.

“What we’re seeing in India now, and what we saw in the UK, is the development of variants which rely and depend on a community not being immune, and the extent to which vaccinations are rolled out to all in a territory is critical for the containment of the virus and containment of threatening variants.”

Vaccine distribution tends to illuminate a state’s blind spots, and even some governments that putatively included refugees in their plans were doing too little to make sure they were actually vaccinated, Hardman said.

She gave the example of Lebanon, which has included the 1.5 million refugees who make up a third of its population in its national plan, “but what we’ve seen is extremely low take-up rates and an unwillingness by authorities to put forward the kinds of promises and assurances and mechanisms to get refugees and vulnerable groups to vaccination centres”, she said.

Countries can also apply to access Covax’s humanitarian buffer in extraordinary circumstances, such as the inflow of a large population of refugees.

There is also a separate “contingency provision”, drawing from the same emergency stockpile, which allows countries to apply for an immediate surge of extra doses through Covax in case of an extraordinary outbreak, potentially such as that which India has experienced over past weeks.

A spokesperson for the WHO did not comment on how many of countries named in the research had subsequently addressed the gaps in their vaccination programmes, but said: “Experience shows that despite best efforts, at-risk populations in humanitarian settings are often left behind and are at risk of being missed by government-led vaccination activities.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/07/at-least-46m-displaced-people-excluded-from-covid-jabs-who-study-shows

Almost half of Myanmar risks falling into poverty by 2022: UNDP

Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February's military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]
Women and children are likely to feel the brunt of a steep increase in poverty caused by COVID-19 and February’s military coup, according to the United Nations Development Programme [File: Ann Wang/Reuters]

The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the instability following a military coup in February, could plunge almost half of Myanmar’s population into poverty, reversing economic gains made over the last 16 years, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“The ongoing political crisis will, doubtless, further compound the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, reducing incomes,” the UNDP said in a report (PDF) published on Friday.

In the organisation’s worst-case scenario, 48.2 percent of Myanmar’s population, the equivalent of about 26 million people, could be living in poverty by 2022, compared with 24.8 percent in 2017, the UNDP said.

The agency defines Myanmar’s national poverty line as those living below 1,590 kyats ($1) a day in 2017 terms.

The political crisis is likely to affect small businesses acutely, resulting in lost wages and a drop in access to food, basic services and social protection, according to the UNDP.

Women bearing the brunt

As a result, it is women and children who are expected to bear the heaviest brunt of the two crises.

“The effects of COVID-19, amplified by the effects of the overthrow of the civilian government, are likely to lead to a disproportionate increase in urban poverty.

“This is related to the fact that urban areas, where most of the income-generating activities of the near poor are, have been ground zero for the pandemic and the focus of the most severe crackdowns,” the report’s authors wrote.

Even before recent events, one-third of Myanmar’s people were living “on low levels of consumption that put them at risk of falling into poverty”, the agency said.

More than 83 percent of households have reported a drop in income since the start of 2020, according to the UNDP.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis on February 1 when the military arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the ruling National League for Democracy and took power for themselves. The coup triggered a civil disobedience movement and mass protests around the country to which security forces have responded with increasing violence.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group that has been tracking arrests and deaths, says 759 people have been killed since Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was removed. Its records show 3,461 in detention.

Food concerns

Myanmar has reported 142,800 cases of COVID-19 with 3,209 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the Johns Hopkins University. New daily cases have fallen sharply since the start of the year.

The UN’s food agency said last month that rising food and fuel prices in Myanmar since the coup risk undermining the ability of poor families to feed themselves.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said food prices were rising, with palm oil 20 percent higher in some places around the main city of Yangon since the beginning of February and rice prices up 4 percent in the Yangon and Mandalay areas since the end of February.

Myanmar’s military, or Tatmadaw, controls large parts of the country’s economy, with interests in Myanmar’s mobile phone system, tourism, food and beverage sector and its lucrative precious stone mining industry. Foreign investors, including global clothing brands which have used Myanmar as a source of cheap labour, have also been reassessing their involvement in the country, likely putting further pressure on the economy and its workers.

https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/4/30/almost-half-of-myanmar-risks-falling-into-poverty-by-2022-undp

Dispute over COVID-19 deaths pits indigenous Brazilians against gov’t

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Indigenous Leader Sonia Guajajara of the Guajajara tribe looks on after meeting with the parliamentary front in defense of the rights of indigenous people at the chamber of deputies in Brasilia, Brazil February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

RIO DE JANEIRO, – The government agency created to protect Brazil’s indigenous people is out to destroy them, a prominent native leader said on Thursday after Funai asked the police to investigate her for fake news.

Police subpoenaed Sonia Guajajara, head of Brazil’s largest indigenous coalition APIB, at the request of the native affairs agency Funai, after she accused the government of genocide for not protecting indigenous people from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Bolsonaro’s Funai does not recognize the indigenous movement, and has no dialogue with those who diverge from the government’s position”, Guajajara said, referring to right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been in office since 2019.

“They want to end the indigenous culture in the country once and for all,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Funai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency said in its submission to the police that it had invested 26 million reais ($4.9 million) to fight the pandemic in indigenous lands, including distributing food and setting up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands.

Funai was set up in 1967 to coordinate and implement government policies to protect the indigenous population, especially isolated and recently contacted people.

That function has been curtailed under Bolsonaro who has criticized indigenous people for having too much reservation land and advocates commercial mining on their lands. Bolsonaro named a policeman, Marcelo Xavier, to run the agency.

“Inside Funai there are many serious civil servants who are trying to do a job that corresponds to the interests of indigenous peoples,” said Guajajara.

“But Funai’s management no longer serves those interests.”

INTIMIDATION

Funai asked that the police investigate Guajajara last week for “perfidy and the crime of slander” because of APIB’s documentaries about the lethal impact of the government’s poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis on native people.

“The biased content of fake news … reveals serious illegality. Although possible criticism is tolerated, what in fact happened was an authentic abuse of freedom of expression,” Funai wrote in its submission.

On Wednesday, a judge halted the police probe into Guajajara, saying in court documents that its main goal was to “silence political demonstrations” by APIB.

Funai is not the only government agency under Bolsonaro to be accused of turning against indigenous people that it is mandated to protect.

Sesai, the agency responsible for providing medical care to indigenous people, has come under fire for allegedly underreporting COVID-19 deaths.

While Sesai reports about 663 deaths due to COVID-19 among indigenous people, a tally by APIB shows 1,063 fatalities among the country’s 900,000 native people.

“When the pandemic started, it exposed how bad indigenous health was,” said Eriki Paiva from the Terena peoples in the centre-west state of Mato Grosso do Sul, one of the groups with the most deaths, according to APIB’s data.

“It saddens us that beyond not doing the basics, they have now used intimidation tactics against our leaders.”

Sesai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Funai has also rejected APIB’s tally.

“(The) data presented was inflated, with the intent to manipulate, almost doubling the number of deaths among indigenous people,” Funai wrote in its submission to the police.

Cristiane Juliao, a leader of the Pankararu people in the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, dismissed Funai’s claim that it set up barriers to stop outsiders entering indigenous lands during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Funai’s presence basically involved the delivery of a basic food baskets,” she said, adding her tribe set up the barriers and Funai provided equipment, transport and funding for a short while and then vanished.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210506175032-l691x/

Catholic groups work to feed Brazilians affected by job loss, COVID-19

People in need receive food aid in São Paulo April 14 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Carla Carniel)
People in need receive food aid in São Paulo April 14 during the COVID-19 pandemic. (CNS/Reuters/Carla Carniel)

Sao Paulo — As unemployment increases and COVID-19 infections surge in the country, Catholic entities in Brazil are ramping up efforts to feed the increasing number of people going hungry.

“The pandemic did not only affect those who live on the streets. It has hit even those who have homes,” Fr. Revislande dos Santos Araújo of Our Lady Consolata Parish in Boa Vista, told Catholic News Service.

The priest, who started a social project dubbed Stirring the Pot in 2015 to distribute meals to drug addicts and homeless people, now also serves meals and distributes food to Venezuelan refugees camped on the streets and to Brazilians who lost their jobs.

Back in 2015, the priest cooked and distributed the meals around the neighborhoods of Boa Vista. “In the beginning, 40 meals were made per day, but at the end of the first year, with the help of donations we were distributing 70 meals,” he said.

With the arrival of Venezuelans in 2016, he explained, the initiative became a bigger project.

“We saw that many did not make it into the shelters and set up camp around the main bus station. They often did not have food to eat, so we extended our Stirring the Pot to help them, too,” he said. “With the pandemic, we offer 1,200 to 1,500 meals per day for those who live on the streets.”

In addition to the homeless and refugees, he said, his parishioners, people with very little means, are also suffering.

“We live in a poor area; our parishioners are poor people. The majority are construction workers, cleaning ladies, etc. With the pandemic, these people lost their jobs. There was a huge increase in poverty and people frequently do not have enough to eat — something that before [the pandemic] we did not see often,” he said.

“For the Venezuelans who live in tents near the bus station, we send meals, while, for the Brazilian families, we send them food packages, so they can cook at home,” he told CNS.

However, donations are decreasing.

“Those who used to donate a kilo of beans, a kilo of rice, now are asking for donations. I try to reach out, doing live events on the internet asking for help, but there are many of my parishioners who used to help and now no longer can because they are finding it hard to put food on the table themselves,” he said.

Araújo, who teaches at the city’s public schools, recalled more than one of his students reaching out to him saying, “‘My mom has lost her job, we don’t have enough to eat at home.'”

The dwindling number of volunteers and donations are also seen in other parts of Brazil. Now, a campaign promoted by the São Paulo Archdiocese along with the charitable aid agency Caritas not only aims to collect money and food for the vulnerable but also to encourage new volunteers to step up and contribute.

“Despite the solidarity, things are getting more difficult. The people who helped are now out of a job,” said Father Marcelo Maróstica Quadro, Caritas director and pastoral coordinator of the Belém region in São Paulo.

The campaign, dubbed Animating Hope, plans to collect food and financial resources to purchase food baskets to distribute to vulnerable families.

“Hunger is a reality that goes against God’s plan,” said Quadro.

He said Caritas has mapped out 450 “points of hope,” where it collects and distributes meals and food baskets. Most of the parishes around São Paulo serve as points of hope.

At the beginning of the pandemic, he said, St. Joseph Parish distributed 40-50 food baskets per month. “Now we distribute more than 300,” he added.

With unemployment rising and food insecurity increasing, the archdiocese, through Caritas, also created a Committee to Fight Hunger and introduced a number of actions to mobilize and unite parishes and parishioners.

“There are a lot of people suffering. Let us help. Let us reach out as best as we can so that these people do not have so much suffering,” Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer said during his weekly radio show.

Other entities linked to the Catholic Church have also stepped up to help. The Brazil branch of AVSI, a Milan-based organization founded on Catholic social teaching, has run three separate programs to deal with the issue: two food basket campaigns and now a program offering meal vouchers for 500 families whose children attended a day care center funded by AVSI. With the schools closed, these children are unable to eat breakfast and lunch at the center.

“We are now trying to get the day care center reopened, because many of those children depended on those meals,” said Fabrizio Pellicelli, president of AVSI in Brazil.

Situations like these are repeated throughout the country.

“In a country like ours, everything that is planted grows,” said Quadro. “There shouldn’t be a reason for our people to go hungry. There is a lack of policies by the government to reduce food insecurity in this country.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/coronavirus/catholic-groups-work-feed-brazilians-affected-job-loss-covid-19

COVID won’t respect borders – UN urges divided world to unite

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.

A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.

“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.

“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”

An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.

The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.

Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.

It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.

“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.

It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.

But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210325174645-xw5k2/

Vatican COVID-19 commission: Church can help combat rising violence against women

Credit: MikeDotta/Shutterstock.
Credit: MikeDotta/Shutterstock.

Vatican City, – The Vatican COVID-19 Commission called on Monday for the Catholic Church and governments to increase support for women suffering from violence amid the coronavirus crisis.

In a seven-page document released March 8, International Women’s Day, the commission said that the pandemic had “increased the vulnerability of countless women across the globe.” 

The text, entitled “Women in the COVID-19 Crisis: Disproportionately Affected and Protagonists of Regeneration,” said that domestic violence had risen during pandemic-related lockdowns. 

The commission asked governments to provide “safe spaces and services for those facing domestic violence.”

It also encouraged the Church to “denounce direct and systemic violence against women.”

The document suggested that an effective way to do this would be for Church leaders to back an appeal by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for a domestic violence “ceasefire.” 

It also said that “messages countering violence against women could be encouraged in homilies and in catechesis.”

Domestic violence incidents rose by 8.1% in the United States following lockdown orders, according to a Feb. 23 report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice.

Pope Francis dedicated the month of February to prayer for women suffering from violence. 

In a video released Feb. 1, he said: “It is shocking how many women are beaten, insulted, and raped … We must not look the other way.”

Pope Francis asked the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development to create the Vatican COVID-19 Commission on March 20, 2020. Working with other curial departments and outside organizations, the commission seeks “to express the concern and love of the Church for the whole human family in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The body, unveiled on April 15, 2020, consists of five working groups, which focus respectively on “acting now for the future,” “looking to the future with creativity,” “communicating hope,” “seeking common dialogue and reflections,” and “supporting to care.”

A note said that the new document was “elaborated by the four different taskforces of Working Group 2,” which tackles topics related to ecology, economics, labor, healthcare, politics, communications, and security. 

“While women are bearing the brunt of the pandemic, they have been excluded from much of the COVID-19 decision-making in many countries, largely due to enduring underrepresentation in senior positions in key fields of medicine and politics,” the text said.

“This may have contributed to the lack of explicit attention paid to the COVID-19 pandemic’s negative impacts on women and girls.”

“Countries with women leaders, however, have generally fared better overall during the pandemic. These leaders approached the crisis in a similar way: they consulted early with health experts and implemented containment measures early.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-covid-19-commission-church-can-help-combat-rising-violence-against-women-95019

Africans slam rich nations for blocking access to generic COVID vaccines

A health worker receives the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine under the COVAX scheme against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

NAIROBI, – Charities in Africa slammed rich nations on Thursday for blocking efforts to waive patents for COVID-19 vaccines, saying this would prolong the pandemic for years in poorer nations and push millions across the continent deeper into poverty.

More than 40 charities, including Amnesty International and Christian Aid, said Wednesday’s move by Western nations to prevent generic or other manufacturers making more vaccines in poorer nations was “an affront on people’s right to healthcare.”

Peter Kamalingin, Oxfam International’s Africa director, said sub-Saharan Africa – 14% of the global population – had received only 0.2% of 300 million vaccine doses administered worldwide.

“Ensuring every African can get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine … is the most effective way to save lives and livelihoods, keep our children in school, reduce unemployment rates and re-open our economies,” he told a news conference.

“Without it, gains made by African countries on issues of food security, democratic governance, gender justice and women’s rights will be reversed completely.”

Richer members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) blocked a push by some 80 developing countries – led by India and South Africa – to waive its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement rules on patents.

The move sent a message that African lives were less important than those of people in rich nations, Kamalingin said.

Countries such as the United States and Britain argue that protecting intellectual property rights encourages research and innovation, and that suspending those rights would not result in a sudden surge of vaccine supply.

Africa’s confirmed coronavirus caseload is almost 4 million, with more than 100,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

While Africa accounts for less than 4% of the 118 million cases and 2.6 million deaths recorded globally, health experts say a lack of testing and reliable data from many African nations means the true figures may be far higher.

The World Bank estimates that the new coronavirus crisis has already pushed 40 million people in sub-Saharan economies into extreme poverty, that is, living on less than $1.90 a day.

Africa needs equitable access to vaccines to prevent further lockdowns, job losses and school closures, said the charities, which included the Pan-African Fight Inequality Alliance and the East Africa Tax and Governance Network.

“Without the vaccine, the pandemic will be prolonged on the continent. Africa will be in a pandemic state for the next four or five years,” warned Mwanahamisi Singano, programme manager from the African Women’s Development and Communication Network.

“If we don’t have the vaccine, we are extending the pandemic phase and all the evil that we have seen come with it.”

Western nations have celebrated the COVAX facility – a World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine-sharing programme to aid developing nations – which has so far delivered approximately 2 million doses to a handful of African countries.

But the charities said COVAX was far from an acceptable solution as it would only result in 20% of the population in those countries being vaccinated by the end of the year.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210311152316-1wx8m/

COVID won’t respect borders – UN urges divided world to unite

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

NEW YORK, – The United Nations on Thursday urged a divided world to unite against a virus that ignores all borders, saying the pandemic could delay by a decade its goal to end global inequalities.

A new U.N. report estimated that the novel coronavirus has unleashed the worst recession in 90 years, threatening to derail its ambitious list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The goals, approved in 2015 with a 15-year deadline, aim to end hunger, gender inequality and violence against women, while expanding access to education and health care in poorer nations.

“What this pandemic has proven beyond all doubt is that we ignore global interdependence at our peril. Disasters do not respect national boundaries,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said in a statement.

“A diverging world is a catastrophe for all of us. It is both morally right and in everyone’s economic self-interest to help developing countries overcome this crisis.”

An estimated 114 million jobs have been lost worldwide, and about 120 million people have sunk back into extreme poverty as the virus circles the globe, the report found.

The U.N. said the economic devastation has widened “already yawning” inequities, with the chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots mirrored in the vaccine rollout.

Of $16 trillion distributed in relief, only 20% was spent in developing countries, the report found, and all but nine of the 38 countries administering vaccines were developed nations.

It called on nations to contribute an estimated $20 billion to vaccinate poorer nations this year, and urged richer members to offer developing nations debt relief, investment – and hope.

“Countries must be helped to not only stay afloat financially, but to invest in their own development,” U.N. Under Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said in a statement.

It is not the first time the U.N. has said development goals are at risk in a pandemic that has prioritized short-term survival over long-term aspirations.

But the warning has taken on new urgency as cross-border rows erupt over the fairest way to vaccinate the whole world, with some countries accused of abandoning common cause to safeguard their home front.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210325174645-xw5k2/

Pope Francis: ‘Experience Lent with love’ by caring for those affected by pandemic

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta April 4, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta April 4, 2020. Credit: Vatican Media.

Vatican City, – Pope Francis has encouraged Catholics to practice charity in Lent this year by caring for those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

In his message for Lent 2021, the pope asks people to “experience Lent with love,” which “rejoices in seeing others grow.”

“To experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to his Servant, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you’ (Isaiah 43:1). In our charity, may we speak words of reassurance and help others to realize that God loves them as sons and daughters,” Pope Francis wrote in the message published Feb. 12.

The pope emphasized that even a small amount of almsgiving when offered with “joy and simplicity” can multiply, as did “the loaves blessed, broken and given by Jesus to the disciples to distribute to the crowd.”

“Love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness,” he said.

The pope’s Lenten message centers on the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Pope Francis signed the message, entitled “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem. Lent: A Time for Renewing Faith, Hope, and Love,” on Nov. 11, the feast of St. Martin of Tours, in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica.

The liturgical season of Lent will begin this year with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 17. The Vatican has instructed priests to distribute ashes by silently sprinkling them on people’s heads this year due to the pandemic.

Pope Francis said that the theological virtue of hope is particularly important as the world continues to grapple with the effects of the pandemic.

“In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for his creation which we have often mistreated,” he said.

“St. Paul urges us to place our hope in reconciliation: ‘Be reconciled to God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20). By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others.”

The pope said that one can give hope to others by being kind, sharing the “gift of a smile” or speaking a word of encouragement. 

“In Lent, may we be increasingly concerned with speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn,” he said.

He added: “Through recollection and silent prayer, hope is given to us as inspiration and interior light, illuminating the challenges and choices we face in our mission. Hence the need to pray (cf. Matthew 6:6) and, in secret, to encounter the Father of tender love.”

“To experience Lent in hope entails growing in the realization that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of new times, in which God is ‘making all things new’ (cf. Revelation 21:1-6). It means receiving the hope of Christ, who gave his life on the cross and was raised by God on the third day, and always being ‘prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that  is in [us]’ (1 Peter 3:15).”

In a Vatican press conference discussing the pope’s Lenten message, Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said that Pope Francis weaved together the traditional Lenten practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving with the three theological virtues, revealing their interconnectedness. 

Turkson said that it was particularly important during the pandemic to be rooted in the practice of prayer to cultivate the theological virtue of hope, which can give one a sense of “vision” when confronted with the world’s problems.

Msgr. Bruno Marie Duffé, secretary of the dicastery, commented: “Fasting opens our spirit, body and whole being to the gift of God. By breaking with an egocentric, egotistical lifestyle and excessive, even compulsive consumption … we consent to live a poverty that is an openness to others and to God. And we receive a love that comes to us from the Father and from Christ.”

“Fasting, therefore, consists in freeing our existence from what encumbers it, from the overload of things, useful and useless, from true or false information, from the habits and dependencies that bind us, to open the door of our hearts and minds to the One who comes to share  our human condition until death: Jesus, the Son of the living God.” 

Pope Francis wrote in his Lenten message that fasting, prayer, and almsgiving “enable and express our conversion.”

“The path of poverty and self-denial (fasting), concern and loving care for the poor (almsgiving), and childlike dialogue with the Father (prayer) make it possible for us to live lives of  sincere faith, living hope and effective charity,” he wrote.

These traditional Lenten practices “revive the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit and the love flowing from the merciful heart of the Father,” Francis said.

“May Mary, Mother of the Saviour, ever faithful at the foot of the cross and in the heart of the Church, sustain us with her loving presence. May the blessing of the risen Lord accompany all of us on our journey towards the light of Easter.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-lent-2021-message-experience-lent-with-love-by-caring-for-those-affected-by-pandemic-19056