At the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in December, India and South Africa proposed to temporarily waive some provisions of a trade agreement in order to allow Covid-19 vaccinations to quickly be produced by global manufacturers. While 100 low or middle income countries support the proposal, a group of high income countries such as the U.S., UK, European Union, and Canada oppose it. By pricing out low income countries who also need the vaccine, these Western nations affirm that defending intellectual property rights is more important than the lives of individuals in the Global South.
While it is generally difficult to determine who should receive support first, countries that can afford large orders of the vaccine would still rather stockpile it without any coherent distribution plan, rather than allow some of it to be sold to other nations. In fact, millions of doses will expire in the U.S. because of a lack of investment in and coordination of medical facilities. Wasting precious resources at the expense of countries who were never given a chance to distribute the vaccine to its own citizens reveals an entitled greed reminiscent of colonial pursuits.
Not only has the history of colonization left countries with massive trauma, cultural erasure, and economic exploitation, but we see neocolonial tactics play out today in global politics such as the hoarding of a vaccine during a global pandemic. Rooted in the perceived inferiority of non-Western peoples, these policies reveal a dangerous logic that Western expertise and values are inherently superior. The dark irony is, that on top of oppressing large groups of minoritized people, this behavior harms Western nations who refuse to learn from countries outside their hegemony.
For example, African and Asian countries have a wider understanding of response to infectious diseases through their experience with Ebola and SARS. It is ultimately the examples set by places like China to wear masks and institute lockdowns that have allowed non-Western nations to curb Covid-19 cases. Unfortunately for countries that touted such measures or instituted them too late, they now have the highest Covid-19 cases and deaths per capita.
We are dealing with a global pandemic, which for everyone’s health and safety requires international access to a Covid-19 vaccine. In devaluing the lives of non-Western people, wealthy countries benefit from an accumulation of resources that leave the most vulnerable in a neocolonial cycle of exclusion.