WTO chief says vaccine inequity is 'devastating'

The COVID-19 vaccination rate in Africa is around 4%.

On Tuesday (September 28) the head of the World Trade Organization described that as "devastating".

Director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's remarks came at the opening session of a Geneva-based trade event:

"While nearly 60 percent of people in developed countries are fully vaccinated, in Africa, the figure is barely 4 percent. This is devastating for the lives and livelihoods of Africans. It is morally unacceptable, and as new variants spread a threat to the health and economic recovery everywhere."

Also voicing his concerns at the event was South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa.

He said a waiver on patents was needed to save millions of lives during the pandemic:

"This is not the time just to be uni-dimensionally focused on just profit. This is the time to save lives."

The WTO began discussions on a waiver to intellectual property rules for COVID-19 products about a year ago.

But several countries with strong pharmaceutical industries, including host Switzerland, remain opposed.

Also at the event, the WTO said it expected all countries, including China, to collaborate in the second phase of a probe into the origins of the virus.

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