We should help because we can help

COVID-19 doesn’t recognise national borders. That’s why we need a global vaccination strategy. An article by Lucia Puttrich, Minister of European Affairs in the State of Hesse, and Tanja Gönner, Chair of the GIZ Management Board.

COVID-19 doesn’t recognise national borders. This warning has been ringing in our ears since the pandemic broke out. It justified border closures, immigration checks and quarantine regulations. In the meantime, a number of different vaccines have been developed and will be widely available in the foreseeable future. So now we all need to end our seclusion from the rest of world and assume responsibility.

We must help because we can help. Germany has the experience and knowledge to provide assistance around the globe in situations like these. We need to make sure that enough vaccine is available in developing countries, too. But we also need to provide practical and lasting support to deal with the pandemic and its knock-on effects.

This is vital. Take Africa, for example. Some 80 million jobs were lost in sub-Saharan Africa in connection with the pandemic in the second and third quarters of 2020 alone. The continent has experienced an unexpected economic crash, triggered by a collapse in tourism, lower international demand for products and falling commodity prices. If the economic and humanitarian effects of the pandemic were to lead to political destabilisation in African countries, Europe would be the first region affected. This would result in migration pressure and set back decades of development work. So far at least, COVID-19 has spread less rapidly in Africa than feared. But the impacts for the continent will be more devastating as conditions for combating the ramifications of the pandemic are worse than in Europe.

We welcome the commitments made in February by the G7 nations to provide financial support to countries in the Global South. The COVAX initiative is planning to make 1.8 billion doses of vaccine available to the world’s 92 poorest countries by the end of the year. Germany is the second-largest donor, providing close to 1 billion Euros. Fair distribution of limited vaccines is a sensitive issue outside Europe, too. Export bans and other restrictions put in place by the US, the dispute over the best vaccination strategy in the EU and the complex relationship with the UK on this issue all show that donor countries are facing a difficult situation as well. But countries without the financial resources to acquire vaccines on the global market have it much worse.

That being said, providing vaccines is only the first step. Even if enough vaccine can be delivered, vaccination programmes will have to contend with weak health care systems in some places and massive logistical challenges. That is why we cannot wait until enough vaccine is available before we start rolling out the global vaccine strategy. Many countries are headed for a humanitarian disaster if we do not help soon. We need a holistic approach that covers everything from providing financing and setting up stable health care systems to training skilled medical workers and administering vaccinations. Developing countries and emerging economies need stable health care infrastructure. This would not only help them tackle the current emergency, but would also strengthen their ability to deal with future health crises.

German development cooperation can play a crucial role here. As a federal enterprise, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH has many years of experience in establishing and expanding health care systems in Africa. It also has direct access to local ministries, municipalities and civil society, with whom it has good relationships built on trust. Working with many other organisations, we can use this to create an effective partnership.

Germany does not just have a humanitarian obligation to lend a helping hand. We can also use this opportunity to reinforce our good reputation in the world. Not alone, but as part of the European Union, which can demonstrate its ability as a community. Team Europe – with the EU institutions, member states and implementing organisations, including GIZ, and a number of promotional banks – has already shown how strong Europe is. Under Germany’s presidency of the Council of the EU, close to 36 billion Euros was made available for projects and programmes to tackle the coronavirus pandemic in less developed countries. By joining forces, member states can and must help to mitigate the effects of the pandemic in countries in the Global South. We should not only help because we can – but because this is what is needed of us

Lucia Puttrich is Minister of European and Federal Affairs in the State of Hesse.

Tanja Gönner is the Chair of the Management Board of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

First published in: Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper, 1 April 2021.

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