World Trade Organization’s new Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has said vaccine protectionism must be stopped in order to win the fight against the pandemic.
In recent weeks, several countries have reportedly tried to prevent the export of vaccines made within their borders but Dr Okonjo-Iweala has said this most be stopped as protectionism would hinder a global recovery.
“The nature of the pandemic and the mutation of many variants makes this such that no one country can feel safe until every country has taken precautions to vaccinate its population,” she said.
Before her appointment as DG, Dr Okonjo-Iweala chaired the global vaccine alliance, GAVI, which aims to increase access to vaccines around the world and she now says the WTO has crucial work to do in this area.
There is an ongoing debate about relaxing WTO rules on intellectual property so that more drug manufacturers can make the jabs. Dr Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged that whilst “some developing countries are asking for waivers, developed countries feel that this might impinge on intellectual property”.
While the pandemic is the most pressing challenge facing the WTO’s new leader, it is not the only one.
The organization is in a fight for relevance in the eyes of many countries that consider its rules outdated and believe that the organization itself has been slow to adapt to changes in the global economy.
After a selection process which was dragged out by a lack of support from the administration of former US President Donald Trump, Dr Okonjo-Iweala is mindful of what her victory represents.
“I’m proud to be the first woman and the first African,” she said while also saying this new status pressures her to make sure to produce results.