Make vaccine access ‘universal, affordable’
"This vaccine inequality must be urgently addressed ... we cannot chart out a sustainable recovery and be safe by leaving millions behind."
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday demanded appropriate global action for "universal and affordable" vaccine access to all for Covid-free world in her 76th UN General Assembly address, warning that the current "vaccine-divides" trend would only linger the pandemic.
"For a Covid-free world, we must ensure universal and affordable access to vaccines for people across the world," she told in her UNGA address in Bangla as previous years, following Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's footprint.
The premier also expressed her grave concern over the growing trend of "vaccine-divides" pointing out World Bank reports suggesting high and upper middle-income countries received so far 84 percent of vaccines against less than one percent by low-income countries, reports BSS.
"This vaccine inequality must be urgently addressed ... we cannot chart out a sustainable recovery and be safe by leaving millions behind," she said, demanding a UN declaration calling Covid-19 vaccines as a "global public goods" in the weeklong UNGA general debate that began on September 21.
She said the last UNGA remained largely unheeded although many countries echoed the same, but "we must demonstrate our ability to work and act together on global common issues and create space for new partnerships and solutions".
"And that must start right here at the UN; with the member states; across regions; rising above narrow political interests … it has also put a spotlight on the critical need for global solidarity and collaboration to effective Covid-19 response," the premier said.
Hasina said vaccine technologies must be transferred immediately across the globe to ensure vaccine equity, saying, "Bangladesh is ready to produce vaccines in mass scale if technical know-how is shared with us and patent waiver is granted".
She placed several proposals to contain the global pandemic, saying only a meaningful collaboration towards a resilient and inclusive recovery could combat the pandemic though it has so far brought to the fore the inadequacy of the global response to tackle emergencies.
Bangladesh's Permanent Representative to the UN Rabab Fatima chaired the session coinciding with the prime minister's addressing the UNGA where 100 heads of government and state were speaking in person.
Climate change, Rohingya crisis, Palestine and Afghanistan issues concerning the global as well as Bangladesh perspectives were featured in Hasina's speech.
On the Afghan crisis, she said Bangladesh wants Afghanistan's people to decide the course of the future themselves while Bangladesh is ready to continue to work with the international community for the country's economic development.
The PM said "Hope" being the theme of the 76th UNGA when Covid-19 was claiming lives across the globe and battering the economies and health system across the world by recurring waves of new variants.
She pointed out that the pandemic disproportionately impacted the climate vulnerable countries that need to be addressed with immediate measures and "otherwise, devastating impacts of climate change will be irreversible".
"No country, rich or poor, is immune from the destructive effects. We, therefore, call upon the rich and industrialised countries to cut emissions, compensate for the loss and damage, and ensure adequate financing and technology transfer for adaptation and resilience building," she said.
Hasina, also the chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum and the Vulnerable 20 Group of Ministers of Finance, said her government has launched the "Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan -- Decade 2030" outlining a transformative agenda from climate vulnerability to climate prosperity.
She went on saying, "The upcoming COP-26 Summit in Glasgow provides us with a good opportunity to rally support for such new and inclusive ideas."
Hasina said the pandemic also severely disrupted Bangladesh's education system while Unicef reported that half the world's students were affected by partial or full school closures.
She said success stories in education progress across the globe largely ran dry as millions of students in low-income countries lacked resources and technologies to join remote learning facilities "jeopardising decades of gains in enrollment, literacy rates, etc".
"We need a global plan to prioritise education recovery by investing in digital tools and services, access to internet, and capacity building of teachers," she said.
She said Bangladesh largely managed to be on track for its graduation from the Least Development Countries (LDC) category "despite the unprecedented challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic".
"We look forward to receiving more support from our development partners for an incentive-based graduation structure".
Hasina described migrants' workers as frontline contributors during the pandemic in health and other emergency services and urged the migrant receiving countries to treat them fairly and protect their jobs, health, and well-being.
Hasina wanted the global community's enhanced focus and active support to find a durable solution to the Rohingya crisis despite the uncertainty created by the recent political developments in Myanmar.
She said the Rohingya crisis was passing its fifth year now but "yet not a single forcibly displaced Myanmar national could be repatriated -- I would like to reiterate that the crisis was created in Myanmar and its solution lies in Myanmar".
"The international community must work constructively for a permanent solution of the crisis through safe, sustainable, and dignified return of the Rohingyas to their home in the Rakhine State."
She said her government recently relocated some Rohingyas to an offshore island of Bhasan Char "on our part, to ensure their temporary stay in Bangladesh".
The premier said despite vaccine constraints, the Rohingyas were incorporated under Bangladesh's inoculation campaign to stop spread of Covid-19 in their camps.
BANGLADESH COVID-19 ASPECT
Hasina said the Covid-19's impact on Bangladesh was much less than it was feared as it was equipped and strengthened from the grassroots to combat the pandemic.
She said under a multi-pronged and multi-stakeholder approach, Bangladesh took some firm decisions to balance between life and livelihood from the very beginning of the pandemic that included 28 stimulus packages to the tune of $14.6 billion or 4.44 percent of the GDP to keep our economy afloat.
Hasina said her government also allocated $1.61 billion for vaccines in the current budget cycle, giving extra attention to the most vulnerable people like the ultra-poor, disabled, elders, returnee migrants and vulnerable women.
"Our well-timed intervention and our people's resilience helped us achieve over five percent economic growth in 2020," Hasina said.
Bangladesh, she said, "Also takes pride as the leading peacekeeping nation and our contribution to global peace and despite the pandemic, our peacekeepers are serving in some of the most difficult circumstances across the globe with utmost dedication and professionalism."
"The international community must do everything possible to ensure their [peacekeepers] safety and security," she said.
The prime minister said her government has been working hard to fulfill the unfinished dream of our Father of the Nation.
"We are now among the five fastest growing economies in the world, ranking 41st in terms of GDP. Over the past decade, we have reduced the poverty rate from 31.5 percent to 20.5 percent," she said.
She said Bangladesh's per capita income jumped to more than threefold in just one decade to $2,227 while its foreign currency reserve has reached all time high to $48 billion.
As for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Index Score, the Sustainable Development Report 2021 identified Bangladesh as having progressed the most since 2015.
"We have achieved the milestone of LDC graduation this year. Our vision is to transform Bangladesh into a knowledge-based developed country by 2041; and a prosperous and resilient Delta by 2100," she added.
Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres has highly praised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for the development in Bangladesh, calling it a "miracle".
"The UN secretary-general commended Bangladesh for its development in different sectors and humanity… he thanked the prime minister for achieving a development of miracle," said Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, UNB reported.
He was briefing reporters after a bilateral meeting held between Hasina and Guterres at the UN Secretariat Building in New York on Thursday.
He said both the UN and Bangladesh shared common priorities in different areas, including climate, financing and SDGs.
"We share common priorities, whether it's climate, financing or SDGs. Those priorities in the UN are also the priorities of Bangladesh," Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN Rabab Fatima, who was at the briefing, quoted Guterres as saying.
Hasina urged the secretary-general to appoint more Bangladeshis to higher posts in the UN since Bangladesh plays a significant role in the UN. "We're your major tools, but there are a few Bangladeshis in your different higher posts."
In reply, the secretary-general said they would consider it.
Momen said, "Bangladesh is a model [case] to the UN as it's a vibrant economy coming out from a poor economy. This is why the UN always respects Bangladesh."
"Bangladeshi peacekeepers are creating a brand name wherever they work. So, we asked them to appoint Bangladeshis in other areas also," Momen added.
Hasina also had a bilateral meeting with Queen Maxima of the Netherlands.
Queen Maxima, also the UN secretary-general's special advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, said they were thinking whether an insurance programme can be launched in Bangladesh to bring poor farmers who are affected by flood and storm under coverage.
Hasina also held two separate bilateral meetings with the Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Vietnamese President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc at the UN Headquarters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
In the meeting with Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Bangladesh asked the Maldives to introduce a commercial shipping service between Chattogram port and Male port to transport goods and food items at cheap rates to boost trade and business between the two countries.
Bangladesh also requested it to regularise undocumented Bangladeshis living in the Maldives, said Momen.
Ibrahim Mohamed Solih invited Hasina to visit his country and she accepted the invitation.
In the meeting with the Vietnamese president, Vietnam was asked to help Bangladesh over the repatriation of forcibly-displaced Rohingyas as it has very good relations with Myanmar.
As Bangladesh has a large negative trade balance with Vietnam, Dhaka asked Hanoi to raise its import from Bangladesh.
Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and PM's Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim were present at the briefing.