Opening address to the Global Health Summit
Venerdì, 21 Maggio 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the Global Health Summit.
It is a pleasure to host you – if only virtually - here in Rome
The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated our societies.
More than 3.4 million people have died officially because of the virus – but the death toll is certainly much higher.
Last year, the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs were lost globally - around four times those lost during the financial crisis.
At least 1.5 billion students were out of school in March last year. Close to 700 million students are still not receiving an education in person today.
The global crisis is not over. We must act fast or else these human, economic and social costs risk climbing further significantly.
In Europe we have responded in a forceful and coordinated way.
Our doctors and nurses have assisted thousands of patients, often in overcrowded hospitals.
My gratitude goes to them for their selfless service, which has cost many of them their lives.
Our governments and central banks have launched successive rounds of fiscal and monetary stimulus, which have certainly helped to save jobs and prevent unnecessary bankruptcies.
Our scientists have developed a number of effective vaccines at an unprecedented speed.
We are rolling them out fast, starting with the elderly and the most fragile, and guaranteeing them freely to everyone.
After a year and a half, we are starting to see the end of this tragedy.
For the first time, normality is looking nearer.
Unfortunately, in many other areas of the world, the pandemic shows no sign of abating.
The differences in the vaccination rates are staggering.
Close to 1.5 billion doses of vaccines have been administered in over 180 countries worldwide.
Only 0.3% of them are in low-income countries, while richer countries have administered around 85% of them.
Not only are these disparities unacceptable.
They are also a threat.
So long as the virus continues to circulate freely around the world, it can mutate dangerously and undermine even the most successful vaccination campaign.
We must make sure that vaccines are more available to poorer countries.
It is essential that we allow the free flow of raw materials and vaccines across borders.
The EU has exported about 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to 90 countries – roughly half of its total production.
All states must do the same. We must lift blanket export bans especially to poorer countries.
Regrettably, many countries cannot afford to pay for these vaccines.
That’s why initiatives such as the ACT Accelerator are so important.
So far, Italy has given 85 million euros to COVAX and a further 30 million to related multilateral projects.
Now, Italy is pledging today 300 million more for poor countries for vaccines and 200 more for climate and health in poor countries.
I am very glad to announce today that this week we plan, as I said, to increase significantly the contribution.
We must also help low-income countries, including in Africa to manufacture their own vaccines.
We will likely need multiple rounds of vaccination in the future – and boosting production is essential.
One suggestion is to introduce a patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines.
Italy is open to this idea, so as far as it is targeted, time-limited and does not undermine the incentive of pharmaceutical companies to innovate.
I understand that Ursula has another idea, which is also very innovative and – perhaps, in perspective – more realistic.
But this proposal does not guarantee that low-income countries are actually in the position to manufacture their own vaccines.
We must support them financially and with specialised know-how.
Italy welcomes the initiative from the European Commission aimed at manufacturing vaccines and health products in low- and middle-income countries.
We want to engage our pharmaceutical companies and our research centres to help production, particularly in Africa.
And we will do so alongside other partner countries, including France and Germany.
Again, we have today a pledge that goes to 15 million doses before the year end for low-income countries, so we can join other partners in vaccines donation.
But our plan for low-income countries must move beyond the immediate health response.
On top of the staggering loss of human lives, the present crisis has taken a heavy toll on economic opportunities, education systems and social infrastructure.
The risk is that vaccine inequality will lead to greater income inequality.
I think it has already led to income inequality.
Italy has endorsed a four-point strategy to help the world’s most fragile countries. Allocating Special Drawing Rights, to support the balance of payments of countries in need. Replenishing early the IDA, the International Development Association. Encouraging Multilateral Development Banks to enhance their net financing activities. And suspending temporarily debt-service payments to shield countries in need.
Italy has been one of the countries hit first and hardest by the pandemic. We have learnt our lessons and we want to put them to good use.
As Presidency of the G20 we want to lead the global push to design better global responses to the current and future health crises.
I very much welcome our debate today and I look forward to hearing you all.