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Dhaka Tribune

PM Hasina stresses timely, equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines

It’s imperative to treat the vaccine as a global public good, she tells the UN General Assembly

Update : 26 Sep 2020, 09:09 PM

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has stressed timely and equitable access to prospective Covid-19 vaccines while addressing the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) amid a visible trend of “vaccine nationalism” when developed countries are prioritizing their access to prospective inoculates ahead of others.

“We hope that the Covid-19 vaccine will soon be available in the world. It is imperative to treat the vaccine as a ‘global public good’,” she said on Saturday while addressing the UNGA via a video link.

Sheikh Hasina said “The pandemic is a stark reminder that our fates are interconnected and that no one is secured until everyone is secured” and therefore “we need to ensure the timely availability of this vaccine to all countries at the same time”.

The Bangladesh premier’s pre-recorded speech came as United Nations holds its 75th UNGA session while the global Covid-19 pandemic forces the global forum to hold the annual assembly of world leaders through the virtual media in New York this year.

She delivered the speech in Bangla as she did in previous UNGA sessions as the premier, following Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s footprint.

Sheikh Hasina informed the UNGA about of higher infrastructural capacity of Bangladesh pharmaceutical industry and said if Bangladesh was provided with the technical know-how and patents, it could launch mass-scale productions of inoculates.

According to global health regulators, researchers are testing 42 vaccines in clinical trials on humans, and at least 93 preclinical vaccines are under active investigations in animals but developed countries were placing orders to vaccine makers for early availability of inoculates causing fears it could prolong the pandemic.

Call for collective action

Sheikh Hasina said the way the Second World War had prompted countries to join their hands to cooperate each other establishing the United Nations, the ongoing pandemic now warranted “collective action” in an identical manner under right leadership.

The Bangladesh premier’s 17- minute speech simultaneously featured largely the Rohingya crisis while she also highlighted issues of climate change and migrant workers’ plight due to COVID-19 pandemic.

She informed as well the UNGA Bangladesh’s ongoing development campaign and efforts to attain the SDG goals and replicable success stories, her government’s zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism and violent extremism and commitment to multilateralism and world peace.

Rohingya crisis

Sheikh Hasina reiterated her call to the world community to play a more effective role in solving the protracted Rohingya crisis saying “more than three years have elapsed (but) regrettably, not a single Rohingya could be repatriated” as Bangladesh provided makeshift shelter to over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Myanmar people.

“I request the international community to play a more effective role for a solution to the crisis,” she said and suggested the solution to be explored in Myanmar as the crisis was created by Myanmar.

“Unprecedented crisis in humankind’s history”

Sheikh Hasina said the ongoing unprecedented crisis in humankind’s history that forced as well the United Nations to stage for the first time its general assembly on digital platform debarring the heads of states physical presence at its New York headquarters.

She said the situation reflected how the pandemic affected the global economy and health systems while Bangladesh was no exception while the country recorded the record high 8.2 percent GDP growth in the last fiscal.

But, she said, as the pandemic broke out her government put in its efforts to strike a balance between “life the livelihood”, quickly identifying its impending rage on the financial sector and massively expanding the social safety nets coverage.

Sheikh Hasina said under the initiative food and other assistance was readily arranged for people who are rendered jobless and these arrangements benefitted nearly 10 million families.

“To ensure healthcare of the common people, we are providing 30 types of medicines free of cost through 18,000 community clinics and union health centres,” she said.

Moreover, the premier said, alongside the government assistance, she herself collected funds and distributed more than an amount of Tk 2.5 billion among orphans, poor students, school teachers, artists, journalists and institutions like madrasas, mosques, temples, which otherwise were not included in government’s assistance programmes.

“As a result, the impact of the pandemic among our people has been minimal,” she said.

She said the quick situation analysis yielded 21 stimulus packages worth US$ 13.25 billion “which is equivalent to 4.03% of our total GDP” and added “we have announced stimulus packages aiming to minimize the impact of the pandemic on our business and productivity.

The premier said these packages include sectors such as export-intensive industries, safety and security of the workers, working capital for small and medium enterprises, loan facilities for export growth, assistance to farmers and agriculture, loan for employment generation, interest relief for the affected business enterprises, refinancing schemes and insurance for the health workers.

Tackling the pandemic

The premier said soon after detection of first three Covid-19 cases in March in Bangladesh her government announced 31-point directive and launched vigorous awareness raising campaigns as well as distributed personal protective kits aiming to contain coronavirus spread.

“These resulted in containment of seasonal diseases which are otherwise common in our country,” she said.

The premier said the pandemic prompted her government initially to lay highest emphasis on food production and ensure adequate supply of nutrition to people and subsequently special arrangements were made to keep running the essential industries.

She said services were ensured for proper marketing of agricultural products and industrial outputs in full compliance with health guidelines and as a result of these initiatives “our health sector and economy are still comparatively at a better shape”.

A mid-income state by 2020

Sheikh Hasina said despite the Covid-induced stagnation in global industrial outputs, Bangladesh’s GDP registered a growth rate of 5.24 percent which, otherwise, however, was expected to be 7 percent in the next fiscal.

Noting that efforts to contain the pandemic and achieve Agenda 2030 have to go hand-in-hand, Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh’s second voluntary national review (VNR) presented this year shows that the country is well on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Every year, we allocate around Tk 39 billion for our freedom fighters. Our allowances for the elderly, widows, destitute women, disabled and other backward sections of the society are benefitting approximately 9.1 million families,” she added.

The premier said the government has provided scholarships to four million students and also given cash incentives to five million people, including farmers, workers and laborers affected by the pandemic.

“We’re working hard to transform Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021, attain the SDGs by 2030, a developed country status by 2041 and a prosperous Delta by 2100,” she said

She continued: “We cannot but emphasize more on the importance of leveraging science, technology and innovation for closing the digital divide and mobilizing resources and technology transfer.”

Migrant workers

The premier said many of Bangladeshi migrant workers have lost their jobs during the pandemic, while many have been sent back home.

“We have allocated US$ 361 million for the returnee migrant workers. It is critical to help them regain employment in the post-COVID job market … I urge the international community and migrant receiving countries to treat migrant workers fairly and with empathy during the crisis,” she said.

The Bangladesh premier described migrant workers as “frontline contributors” to the economies of their host and home countries alike and therefore they deserved a fair treatment in the countries where they were dedicating their services and an extra-empathy by the host nations and international community particularly during the current pandemic.

Support for graduating LDCs

Sheikh Hasina said it is also crucial that graduating LDCs and recently graduated ones are accorded scaled-up international support and incentive packages in the transition and post-transition phases to minimize the pandemic-triggered impediments.

She paid tribute to all frontline fighters including health workers and public servants who are working tirelessly to ensure safety of the Covid-19-affected countries and population. “I also commend the United Nations Secretary-General for his bold leadership and multilateral efforts during this crisis,” she said.

Climate change

The premier said the Covid-19 pandemic is worsening the pre-existing vulnerabilities of climate-vulnerable countries. “In Bangladesh, we are dealing with the dual impact of recent floods and the cyclone Amphan even during the pandemic,” she said.

As the current president of the CVF and the V-20 Group of Ministers of Finance, Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh would lead the forum to map out a sustainable and climate-resilient pathway out of the crisis.

“We also stand ready to contribute to securing a constructive and productive outcome in the Glasgow COP,” she said.

Sheikh Hasina said the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action has helped the international community come a long way to ensure gender equality.

“As we are celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Declaration, we need to strengthen our resolve and mutual cooperation to address all the critical areas of concern,” she said.

Women empowerment

About the women empowerment, the prime minister said Bangladesh has closed 72.6 percent of its overall gender gap. “Women’s contribution remains at the core of our national development. They are also at the forefront of pandemic response and recovery efforts,” she said.

Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh is implementing special programmes for the development of children. “As the current President of the UNICEF Executive Board, we are leading efforts to address the existing disparity. At the same time, we remain vigilant to ensure that this health crisis does not turn into a children’s crisis,” she said.

Contribution to international peace efforts

Pointing to the country’s foreign policy, the premier said “Friendship to all and malice to none” is the fundamental principle of Bangladesh’s foreign policy.

Inspired by this foreign policy dictum, she said, Bangladesh has been consistently contributing to international peace and security and the establishment of a Culture of Peace.

“During the pandemic, we see the rise of hate speech, xenophobia, and intolerance. Embracing the spirit of a ‘Culture of Peace’ can help address these worrying trends,” Sheikh Hasina said.

Sheikh Hasina said currently, Bangladesh is the largest troops and police-contributing country in the world to the peacekeeping missions.

“Our peacekeepers are putting their lives on the line to secure and sustain peace in conflict-ravaged countries. International community must ensure their safety and security,” she said.

The prime minister called for due recognition of women’s role in peace and security, saying: “This year we are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.”

“As one of its original proponents, we call for due recognition of women’s role in peace and security. We have already formulated a national action plan in this regard,” she added.

Sheikh Hasina said Bangladesh’s unflinching commitment to peace has resulted in the adoption of a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism and violent extremism.

The premier said Bangladesh consistently and strongly supports the global quest for a nuclear weapons free world. “To that end, we support the aspirations of developing countries to benefit from the peaceful use of nuclear technology,” she said.

“Our painful experience and the worst form of genocide and crimes against humanity that our nation had to endure during our struggle for independence motivated us to support the legitimate cause of the Palestinian people,” she added.

Sheikh Hasina said the Covid-19 pandemic has indeed aggravated existing global challenges and it has also reinforced the indispensability of multilateralism.

The premier said on the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, Bangladesh’s commitment to multilateralism as embodied in the UN Charter remains unflinching.

“At the national level, despite numerous challenges, we are committed to upholding the values of multilateralism and working towards building a “Sonar Bangla” free of poverty and exploitation based on democratic principles with full enjoyment of human rights, as envisioned by the Father of our Nation,” she said.

“On the birth centenary of our Father of the Nation, this is our pledge to our nation and to the world,” Sheikh Hasina added.

At the outset of her speech, the premier congratulated Volkan Bozkir on his election as the President of the 75th UNGA.

Sheikh Hasina said the UN General Assembly Hall evokes deep emotions in her. “From this very hall in 1974, my father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman delivered a speech for the first time in Bangla as the head of the government of a newly independent country,” she said.

The premier said she had the privilege of attending the General Assembly Sessions in-person for 16 times. “I emphasized world peace and solidarity in all my speeches. As a head of government, this year I am delivering my 17th speech in the Assembly,” she said.

She said Bangladesh was among the first rank of countries to endorse the UN Secretary-General’s various initiatives, including his global ceasefire appeal.

Paying profound homage to Bangabandhu, the prime minister said Bangabandhu taught the Bangalee nation to stand firm in the world by ending exploitation, deprivation and oppression.

“Following his footsteps, we have been able to secure a respectable position for Bangladesh in the Comity of Nation,” she said.

Sheikh Hasina, the elder daughter of Bangabandhu, said: “From this august Assembly he (Bangabandhu) declared — the noble ideals enshrined in the United Nations Charter are the very ideals for which millions of our people have made the supreme sacrifice. ….the Bangalee nation fully commits itself to the building of a world order, in which the aspiration of all men for peace and justice will be realized.”

Bangabandhu’s statement was indeed a bold expression for multilateralism, the premier said, adding: “The reflection that Bangabandhu made in 1974 continues to remain equally relevant even today, as we grapple with the current crisis.”

Sheikh Hasina said this year is particularly significant for the Bangalee nation, as it is celebrating the birth centenary of the Father of our Nation.

 “Our reflection on his life, struggle, and sacrifice and celebration of his achievements, is a source of our encouragement for brighter future and give us the hope to cope with the challenge of COVID-19,” she said.

“On the birth centenary, we, on behalf of all deprived people and nations, pay rich tribute to Bangabandhu,” she added.

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