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‘Very wide’ vaccine inequality gap between developed and developing nations must be narrowed: Retno Marsudi

The foreign minister also said that the date for the upcoming Indonesia-Singapore Leaders’ Retreat is still being discussed.

‘Very wide’ vaccine inequality gap between developed and developing nations must be narrowed: Retno Marsudi

Screengrab of CNA's video interview with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi at the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Sep 24, 2021.

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Friday (Sep 24) that the “very wide” COVID-19 vaccine inequality gap between developed and developing countries has been a common topic at the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York this week.

“Essentially, the vaccine inequality between developed and developing countries is very big, very wide. Therefore, this gap must be narrowed,” she told CNA in an exclusive interview at the sidelines of the UNGA.

“First of all, the problem is there are not enough vaccines. They are also not evenly distributed.

"Therefore, we ask developed countries that have a lot of vaccines or more than needed to share them.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 6 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide but 80 per cent of them are in developed countries, the minister noted.

Thus, developed countries could share their supply through bilateral mechanisms or via the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility which is a programme aiming to share vaccines among countries, she added.

Mdm Marsudi, who is also one of the co-chairs of the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) Engagement Group (EG), said that the initial target was to distribute 2 billion vaccines by the end of this year.

“Due to several obstacles such as restrictions, export ban … COVAX facility can only secure 1.4 billion (doses) by the end of this year. 

“So this means, there is a 30 per cent gap from its target. Therefore, to countries that have excess vaccines, we really hope they share them,” she said.

Indonesia’s top diplomat also said the Southeast Asia nation, where 47 million of its people have been fully vaccinated out of its 270 million population, is co-sponsoring in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver related to vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics purposes.

The agreement plays an important role in facilitating trade in knowledge and creativity and resolving trade disputes over intellectual property.

This is in line with Indonesia’s priority to focus on inclusiveness and sustainability when it assumes the G20 presidency for a year starting Dec 1, as announced by President Joko Widodo during his speech at UNGA early Thursday.

In his speech, Mr Widodo also mentioned that global economic recovery can only be attained if the pandemic is under control and countries join hands in helping one another. He also said that Indonesia is committed to climate resilience, low carbon development and green technology.

He also expressed concern over the political crisis in Myanmar and the marginalisation of women and violence in Afghanistan, among other issues.

AFGHANISTAN “HUMANITARIAN CRISIS CANNOT WAIT”

Commenting on the situation in Afghanistan, Mdm Marsudi who met with Taliban representatives in Doha last month, said that Indonesia will continue to monitor the situation there.

“Of course for the Taliban, they understand very well what the world wants, what the world expects,” she said on Friday. 

“Actually if we look at the statements of the Taliban so far, sentences regarding the issues of inclusive governance, not making Afghanistan a breeding and training ground for terrorists, and also respecting women's rights, these are actually the words the Taliban had said a while ago.”

She added: “This is actually what we are waiting for when these commitments will be implemented.”

The minister said that for the moment, “what is important is to put humanitarian aid forward because the humanitarian crisis cannot wait, while from a political perspective we will see how far the Taliban will fulfil the commitments they have conveyed to the world”.

DATE FOR INDONESIA-SINGAPORE LEADERS’ RETREAT STILL BEING DISCUSSED

Asked when the leaders’ retreat between Singapore and Indonesia is expected to take place, Mdm Marsudi said the matter is still being discussed.

In March, it was announced that both leaders will meet in person later this year, with Bintan being a possible venue for the event.

Mdm Marsudi said: “At that time, we talked about mid-year plans. Then Indonesia experienced an extremely high increase in (COVID-19) cases in July and we closed all of our borders. I think it is not good in the midst of such a situation to continue the meeting.”

“So my conversation with Singapore's foreign minister is, we continue to prepare while looking at the pandemic situation.”

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko Widodo at a Leaders’ Retreat on Oct 8, 2019. (Photo: TODAY/Najeer Yusof Muallim)

She noted that Indonesia is currently experiencing a decrease in COVID-19 cases with a positivity rate of less than 5 per cent. However, Singapore is now seeing a spike in infections. 

“That's the world we have to face right now. At one point, a country is seeing a decline (in cases). On the other end, other countries are seeing a rise. 

“So we continue to make preparations, but everything will really depend on the COVID-19 situation,” she said.

“But that doesn't mean our cooperation with Singapore will stop if there is no Leaders' Retreat Meeting.”

The last time the leaders of the two countries met for the annual meeting was two years ago in Singapore before COVID-19 disrupted plans. Last year, Indonesia was supposed to host the retreat but it was postponed to this year due to the pandemic. 

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Source: CNA/ks

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