Covid vaccine inequity due to racism rooted in ‘slavery and colonialism’

Racism rooted in slavery, colonialism and apartheid is responsible for higher Covid death rates among people of African and Asian descent, as well as Roma and Indigenous peoples, a UN body has said.

That the vast majority of Covid-19 vaccines were administered in high and upper-middle-income countries replicated “slavery and colonial-era racial hierarchies”, according to the committee on the elimination of racial discrimination (Cerd).

The committee said a failure to redress injustices has denied basic human rights to health and worsened discrimination and exclusion. In a strongly worded statement released on Friday, the group said it was concerned that the pandemic’s disproportionate impact “is in significant part attributed to consequences of the historic racial injustices of slavery and colonialism that remain largely unaccounted for today”.

The unequal distribution of vaccines between and within countries “manifests as a global system privileging those former colonial powers to the detriment of formerly colonised states and descendants of enslaved groups,” the statement added. As of April 2022, only 15.21% of low-income country populations has received one vaccine dose.

Peruth Nabirye from EqualHealth, a global healthcare campaign, said it was important to hold countries where pharmaceutical companies are located accountable for fostering health inequities. She said: “We are still tied up in systems of injustice and we are at the mercy of the global north to save our lives.”

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