Ensure equal access to vaccines – Duterte

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    PRESIDENT Duterte yesterday called for equal access for all economies, regardless if a country is rich or not, to vaccines being developed against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

    The President, in a message during the 75th United Nations General Assembly, said the Philippines recognizes the role played by the UN in the fight against the pandemic, and welcomed its $2-billion United Nations COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund which aims to help low- and middle-income countries to respond to the pandemic, especially the nations that are most vulnerable to economic hardships and social disruption.

    Duterte emphasized the importance of ensuring universal access to anti-COVID-19 technologies and products that are pivotal in the global pandemic recovery.

    “The world is in the race to find a safe and effective vaccine. When the world finds that vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld. It should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy,” he added.

    The President said the Philippines also joins its partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Non-Aligned Movement in their belief that the COVID-19 vaccine must be considered “a global public good.”

    “While each nation has its own strategy in fighting the pandemic, what the world needs are coordinated international plans and efforts to pursue a common purpose. COVID-19 knows no border. It knows no nationality. It knows no race. It knows no gender. It knows no age.

    It knows no creed,” he said.

    The President’s call was made at the heels of reports that richer countries have secured access to different COVID-19 vaccines that are still under development.

    The Philippines, which the President said has no money for the vaccine, is participating in a trial led by the World Health Organization and others to be conducted by private companies, in exchange for gaining access to the vaccines when these are ready for commercial distribution and use.

    Duterte, during the UN event, also emphasized the need for a “WHO that is quick to coordinate and quicker to respond” especially at this of the pandemic.

    He said countries must also work with complete mutual trust to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges.

    “We cannot bring back the dead but we can spare the living; and we can build back better, healthier, and more prosperous and just societies. To this end, we rededicate ourselves to multilateralism. The UN remains humanity’s essential organization. But it is only as effective as we make it,” he said.

    The President said the UN should also be reformed and empowered to meet challenges and called for actions to “improve the Security Council’s composition and working methods; to strengthen the role of the General Assembly; and to streamline the processes and the operations of the UN.”

    “To be ready for the new global normal, it cannot be business as usual for the UN. Let us empower UN – reform it – to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow. Let us strengthen it so it can fully deliver its mandate to maintain peace and security, uphold justice and human rights, and promote freedom and social progress for all,” he added.

    PROTECTING MIGRANT WORKERS

    The President also appealed to the world leaders to ensure the protection of rights of migrant workers as many of them, like the hundreds of thousands of Filipino working overseas, were sent back to their countries because of job losses caused by the the pandemic.

    He said at least 345,000 Filipinos were affected but only half of them have returned to the country.

    “In these times, we need stronger cooperation in promoting and protecting the rights of migrants, regardless of their migrant status,” he said adding that the Philippines has partnered with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the establishment of a “green lane” to facilitate the safe and speedy disembarkation of Filipino seafarers.

    The President said many OFWs continued to work amid the global health crisis, including health frontliners who risk their lives to care for others in the different parts of the world.

    Duterte said the Philippines is thankful to countries that provide Filipinos with residence permits, access to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and related health services.

    He also extended his condolences to the families of those who perished during the pandemic.