• 18 FEB 2021

Prime Minister Rowley’s Statement at WHO Media Conference-18 February, 2021

Dr Tedros, Director-General of the World Health Organisation,

A very good morning to all our viewers and listeners who are tuned in to this program on Vaccine Equity. Today, as Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, I represent our twin-island Caribbean nation as well as the region of CARICOM, being Chairman of that regional body, at this time.

I am really honoured to be invited and afforded the opportunity to participate in this public conversation on our world’s ongoing challenge of responding to a virus which, for more than a year, has been ravaging our populations, destroying our economies and killing us indiscriminately across the world.

At the onset, I want to thank Dr Tedros and the broad spectrum of staff at the WHO for the leadership, guidance, care, comfort and hope that you have consistently provided all the way from the beginning of a perilous journey through this very dark night. Your pivotal role underscores the obvious need for this global organization’s existence and sustenance and we trust that you will always be there to hold a candle to us all, wherever and whenever we on this planet are confronted by microbes or any other form of human health challenges.

After a period of disbelief, it is with great satisfaction that we welcome the news of the intention of the United States to return to this place of science and world leadership in this vital and fundamental business of human care.

Dr Tedros, colleagues, fellow citizens of the many countries I trust that it is clear to us all by now that large or small, rich or poor, powerful or feeble, none of us will be free from the devastation and propagation of this virus until all of us are free of its grasp and have overcome the direct and indirect, destructive dominance of this microbe. One year ago, when the full nature of the pandemic was realized we were very unsure of its reign but among our fervent hopes, even then, was that our collective scientific knowhow would lead us to a vaccine in the shortest possible time and we prayed for its efficacy.

Today, thankfully we are at that place where we now have tested and proven vaccines. A brightening light is shining on our way towards a more successful response to the still marauding virus. Even as we breathe a sigh of collective relief we acknowledge the logistical difficulties associated with instantly satisfying the needs of all our people but we do have models of sharing and caring which would allow all of us to be beneficiaries of fair and equitable access as WHO go on to, hopefully, certifying more and more of the life-saving vaccines.

Our history as people is littered with instances of destructive greed, disrespectful dominance, imbalances and other forms of man’s inhumanity to man but on this rare occasion when we are all yoked to an invisible destroyer it is my hope and plea that when the journal of this experience is written it would deviate from what is mostly the norm and record that, on this occasion, the rich took care of the poor and the small and impecunious were not trampled with disdain by those who could have done so simply because they had the wherewithal to do so.

Today on behalf of all small island states, of which the Caribbean’s CARICOM group is probably the best example of those with fragile economies, small populations with limited technical and financial resources, as well as other vulnerabilities; who are being disproportionately being ravaged and threatened by Covid 19 and all it variants; we are to remind that we need the systems of fairness, caring and sharing to work according to a plan so that we can all come out of this dreadful experience guided by principles of equity and compassion.

As there is the understandable rush to receive the vaccines and inoculation of our various populations we are more than a little bit concerned that there is, or is to be, hoarding and price gouging as well as undue preference in some quarters.

This being so we at CARICOM have recently called upon WHO to immediately convene an international convention of the world’s peoples representatives to commiserate, explain, assist and commit to a fair sharing of the available vaccine resources for the benefit of all humankind and not just the privileged, well-heeled few. Today we continue to make that call.

We are also wary of the many charlatans who are increasingly emerging as they stalk the vulnerable with offers of opportunities that seem too good to be true only because they really are but are protected by their many disguises.

On this day the work of WHO is far from over. Now more than ever you are required to protect us from the many offshoots of the viral era and encourage the science not only to further understand the biology, physiology and management of the virus but the defeat of its power through equitable distribution of its nemesis, the vaccine.

Director-General, small states such as ours have made and continue to make huge sacrifices in an endeavour to protect our populations from the worst ravages of the virus.

We anxiously anticipate the promised relief and general benefits that a successful early vaccination program can bring to each of us. All we ask as members of the family of nations is that we not be forgotten, ignored or worse, taken advantage of in this business of life and death.

Dr. Tedros, the CARICOM, once again acknowledge your good work and dedication and look forward to receiving you into a healthy Caribbean in the very near future. We hold out great hope as we thank all health caregivers at every station and location and to you we say, Thank You.

Dr Keith C Rowley,

Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago,

Chairman of CARICOM