Last month, as Germans piled into the Allianz Stadium in Munich to watch their team play, a very different scene was unfolding at the Mandela National Stadium in Kampala, Uganda. With the country facing a devastating third wave, hospital beds were rapidly set up under the stands and exhausted health workers braced themselves for the worst.
What makes this contrast all the more disturbing is that the German Government is actively blocking a proposal backed by Uganda, the WHO, Joe Biden and more than 100 countries which would waive copyrights on Covid-19 vaccines to enable ramping up of global production to end the pandemic. Angela Merkel's stubborn refusal to support these urgent measures has exacerbated the brutal vaccine inequality faced by developing countries, such as Uganda, where just 4000 people are fully vaccinated, compared to Germany's 31 million. As dangerous new variants take hold, infection rates across Africa are now surging faster than all earlier peaks.
On the eve of Chancellor Merkel’s visit to the USA, over 10 million health workers in the United States, Europe and 150 countries, appeal to Angela Merkel to show leadership in Europe and join the United States in support of health workers and citizens who desperately need the WTO waiver of intellectual property (IP) protection measures for Covid-19 health technologies (TRIPS Waiver).
Merkel Vs The World?
Of course the fact that Germany is the biggest opponent to these vital measures - which would help us ramp up production to end this crisis - has not gone unnoticed. When Angela Merkel visited Joe Biden last week, she had to confront over a dozen demonstrations outside German Consulates across the country. This marks the biggest wave of protests against an "ally" nation in years.
This is a significant fall from grace for a leader once described as the "West's standard bearer." Following the election of Donald Trump, Merkel seemed keen to present Germany as a defender of global solidarity and cooperation, ready to "work with others to frame globalisation on the basis of common ground and multilateralism." Yet her dogged defence of big-pharma monopolies is undermining the multilateral order. It puts her completely out of line with the World Health Organisation, whose leader Dr Tedros has called for urgent waivers. It undermines the credibility of the World Trade Organisation, where Germany (along with a handful of hold-out countries) is derailing waiver talks. Biden's support for the proposal has revealed just how isolated Merkel is on this issue; she seems to share the most "common ground" with Boris Johnson of all people.
Unfortunately Merkel’s position is also damaging the European Union’s reputation, both domestically and internationally. In June the European Parliament - the bloc's only democratic institution - voted to support the waiver. Other European leaders, including Emmanuel Macron, Mario Draghi and Pedro Sanchez, have all said they support patent waivers. But Merkel, along with her Former-Minister-turned-EU-Commission-President Ursuala Von Der Leyen - seem ready to steam-roll both the Parliament and their closest European partners. This is providing ample ground to Moscow and Beijing, who are taking advantage of Europe’s failing global leadership to use vaccine diplomacy to advance their own interests.
My Global Union Federation represents health workers across the globe who are simply furious that Big-Pharma monopolies are undermining their ability to save lives by blocking the scaling up of vaccine production. Just this week, unions from 150 countries called for Germany to stop blocking progress, saying “our members are the health care workers who have sacrificed much, too often with their lives. We wish to make clear that governments who prioritise the profits of large pharmaceutical companies over protecting lives are making a mockery of their sacrifice.”
As Merkel meets with Biden, we are all asking: is Germany ready to be held responsible for contributing to millions more needless deaths? Research shows that 70% of German’s want their country to support making the vaccine a public good. The whole world is watching and waiting for Chancellor Merkel to finally put people's lives ahead of private pharma profits.
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