This year we marked World AIDS Day on December 1, amid another pandemic. With the exciting news of a COVID-19 vaccine’s arrival this month, there is much we can learn from the global struggle to make HIV medication affordable and available.
In worship on Sunday, we will contemplate the convergence of two pandemics and our moral obligation as a people of faith to join our voices to assure the accessibility and affordability of the COVID-19 vaccine. Many developing countries worldwide do not have access to affordable, life-saving medicines, and as Christians, we cannot stand idly by. According to the World Health Organization, “many developing countries have several international trade law provisions at their disposal to help them buy life-saving medicines at affordable prices for public health needs, … only a few countries are using these because of red tape and political pressure.”
As a South African, I am inspired by the advocacy of people of conscience who stood up to the United States and the powerful pharmaceutical industry at the turn of the century to make HIV and other medication more affordable in my country of birth. In 1998 President Clinton and VP Al Gore sided with pharmaceutical companies who chose to sue then-president Nelson Mandela’s government, despite the devastation caused by the public health crisis in South Africa. By 2001, when the legal struggle came to an end, a further 400,000 lives had been lost to AIDS-related illnesses.
Compelled by the Great Physician, we can learn from the past and our indifference, as we claim a new tomorrow. Affirming that “health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition,” we are adding our voice to mounting public pressure to make the COVID-19 vaccine available and affordable for everyone.
On World AIDS Day, Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, called for global solidarity to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine. In her message, she calls “on companies to openly share their technology and know-how and to wave their intellectual property rights so that the world can produce the successful vaccines at the huge scale and speed required to protect everyone and so that we can get the global economy back on track.”
As we celebrate Christ coming into the world during Advent, let us accept the invitation to manifest the incarnation in our care for our global family. I am looking forward to joining you in virtual worship (Click here to connect).