BEIJING, Mar 01 (IPS) – Back in the 1990s, the discovery of antiretrovirals offered a ray of hope to save people’s lives from the HIV epidemic. Over this decade, people living with HIV benefited from the scientific advances and began to have longer, healthier and more productive lives. However, almost all the beneficiaries were from rich countries in the global north. As a result, about nine million people died by the year 2000 due to the inequality in accessing these life-saving medicines.
It is a hard lesson from the HIV response, but unfortunately, it seems the lesson is not yet learned in dealing with today’s health crisis.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world last year and claimed millions of lives, scientists, doctors and nurses, pharmaceutical industries, and experts acted quickly to develop vaccines to prevent further infections. However, when the vaccines were developed, the same kind of inequalities happened. Research shows the world’s wealthiest countries have monopolised more than half of the production doses of vaccines, leaving low-and-medium-income countries struggling to secure vaccines. 10 rich countries have administered 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines – while some 130 countries have not yet received a single dose.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and underlined the widespread inequalities in the world. That’s why the theme of this year’s Zero Discrimination Day, “End Inequality”, is so pertinent in today’s world. In today’s world, we are all interconnected. Global inequality affects us all, no matter who we are or where we are from. We cannot achieve sustainable development and make the planet better for all if people are excluded from the chance of a better life.
Inequality happens everywhere: income, health status, occupation, disability, gender identity, race, class, ethnicity and religion. As estimated, inequality is growing for more than 70% of the global population, exacerbating the risk of division and hampering economic and social development. And almost two in ten people reported having personally experienced discrimination on at least one of the grounds established by international human rights law.
Discrimination and inequalities are intertwined. Discrimination against individuals and groups can lead to a wide range of inequalities—for example, in income, educational outcomes, health and employment. Inequalities can also lead to stigma and discrimination. Research shows that this social and structural discrimination results in significant inequalities in access to justice and in health outcomes.
Tackling inequality is not a new commitment—in 2015, all UN member states pledged to reduce inequality within and among countries as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. UNAIDS officially launched the first Zero Discrimination Day on 1 March 2014 in Beijing, calling on countries to examine discriminatory provisions in their laws and policies and make positive changes to ensure equality, inclusion and protection, particularly among key populations such as sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men, transgender people and people who inject drugs.
As well as being core to ending AIDS, tackling inequality and discrimination is universal in nature and will advance the human rights of people living with HIV, make societies better prepared to beat COVID-19 and other pandemics and support economic recovery and stability. Fulfilling the promise to tackle inequality will save millions of lives and benefit society as a whole.
We take this opportunity to congratulate China for not only lifting nearly 800 million people out of extreme poverty over the last four decades, but in the years since 2013, lifting nearly 100 million people out of poverty in the rural areas, setting China on course to achieve SDG 1 or ending poverty ten years before 2030. A significant milestone towards ending inequality.
Governments must promote inclusive social and economic growth and eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities. A people-centred approach is needed to ensure we leave no one behind.
This approach was explained well by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who made remarks at the High-level Segment of the 46th Session of The United Nations Human Rights Council recently. He said, “Increasing people’s sense of gains, happiness and security is the fundamental pursuit of human rights as well as the ultimate goal of national governance.”
We all have a role to play in ending discrimination and so reducing inequalities. We can all play our part by calling out discrimination where we see it, by setting an example or by advocating to change the law.
We believe equality can and should be achieved. Let’s make it happen.
UN Resident Coordinator to China, Siddharth Chatterjee and UNAIDS Country Director to China, Amakobe Sande
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