Urgent need to lift sanctions at the forefront at the World Health Assembly
At the current 74th session of the World Health Assembly (WHA), several member countries drew attention to the urgent need to lift unilateral coercive measures imposed on countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and Zimbabwe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures impede access to medical supplies, personal protective equipment and vaccines, thus limiting the ability of these countries to save the lives of those affected by the pandemic.
According to Kill Coalition Sanctions, “Target countries face a shortage of drugs and medical equipment, including oxygen supplies and ventilators, protection kits, spare parts, software, fuel, electricity, drinking water and water for sanitation, [they] cannot use foreign assets for humanitarian imports, their citizens and medical staff cannot access information on COVID-19, telemedicine, or use communication and education platforms. “
The coalition stresses that “from a long-term perspective, unilateral sanctions hamper the ability of targeted countries to respond to COVID-19, to implement national response plans; lead to violations of existing regional and bilateral cooperation / integration mechanisms; make populations dependent on humanitarian aid and prevent economic recovery in targeted countries through the development and maintenance of the necessary infrastructure. This violates the rights of workers, the right to education, access to information, the right to food and the right to health of their populations. “
At least 39 countries are currently subject to unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries and institutions of Global North. Government officials from these countries, along with social movements and human rights organizations, have campaigned relentlessly to end these sanctions.
Venezuelan Minister of Health Carlos Alvarado Told the WHA of Tuesday, May 25, “To end the COVID pandemic, we need peace and to work in harmony among our peoples. That is why we demand the end of the financial blockade and all coercive measures promoted unilaterally. We express our solidarity with the peoples of Palestine and Colombia who are suffering from violent repression. The unilateral measures implemented by the United States and its allies deny us access to essential products to manufacture vaccines, which violates the right to health of our people. “
Venezuela has recorded more than 230,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,500 deaths. The financial and economic blockade imposed by the United States has had a catastrophic impact on Venezuela’s economy. According to a report by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector and financial transactions since 2017 have cost the country between $ 17 billion and $ 31 billion in revenue. The loss of GDP has a direct impact on the state’s ability to import essential items and finance key programs. During the pandemic, this directly affected the state’s ability to care for its people. The country has received vaccines from China and Russia. However, its payment to the COVAX initiative was delayed due to the country’s financial difficulties, affecting its efforts to advance the mass inoculation process.
At the meeting of health ministers of the countries of the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) organized within the framework of the WHA, the Minister of Health Alvarado also commented that “the dominant capitalist health model where health is considered as an asset that you are only entitled to if you pay for, is clearly reflected in the unequal access to vaccines and other supplies needed to fight the pandemic as raised by [WHO Director General] Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “
During this meeting, the Cuban Minister of Health, José Angel Portal Miranda, echoed the demand for the lifting of sanctions and explained the complicated situation facing his country: “The intensification of the economic, commercial and unjust financial system imposed by the US government, along with the application of inhumane unilateral coercive measures, prevents access to essential resources for the development of drugs and supplies that support the fight against the virus.
However, Portal Miranda pointed out that “in the midst of this stifling economic war and other challenges that demand enormous efforts from the government and the health sector, nothing has stopped us from implementing actions aimed at to protect the lives of all our peoples. ”
Cuba is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean region to develop vaccines to fight the COVID-19 virus. It is also the country in the region that has best fought and controlled the spread of the pandemic, despite the suffocating blockade. Portal Miranda attributes Cuba’s success to the efforts made during the 60 years of the revolution in which the country “supported a public health system, universal, free and accessible to 100% of the population”.
The representative of Iran also spoke strongly against the blockade measures. “We call on all Member States, WHO and regional and global organizations to oppose these illegal measures to ensure a swift and comprehensive coordinated global fight against COVID-19,” he said.
Iran too suffered due to the coercive measures imposed by the US administration last year. Attempts by the World Health Organization to have test kits delivered to Iran from the United Arab Emirates have encountered problems due to “flight restrictions.” The UAE had to send the kits in a military transport plane. Likewise, an app intended to help the Iranian population during the pandemic was removed by Google from its App Store due to US sanctions.
Preventing a country from caring for its own population affected by the COVID-19 pandemic has global implications. As has been reiterated throughout the Assembly, there is no way to end the pandemic if not all countries are able to contain it. The onus is clearly on the United States and its allies to respond to the collective demand and lift the sanctions.
Courtesy: Distribution of people