By Vatican News staff reporter
Southeast Asia is battling the world’s highest Covid-19 death toll driven by the Delta variant and unequal global distribution of vaccines. Hospitals remain overwhelmed by record surges across Southeast Asia, from Vietnam to Malaysia and Myanmar as fears mount of greater suffering and loss of life with Covid-19 spreading from cities to rural and regional areas, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said on Wednesday.
Record deaths in SE Asia
In the last two weeks, Southeast Asia has recorded 38,522 deaths from Covid-19, nearly twice as many as North America, according to the John Hopkins University Covid-19 data dashboard.
“This Covid-19 surge driven by the Delta variant is claiming a tragic toll on families across Southeast Asia and it’s far from over,” said IFRC Asia Pacific Director, Alexander Matheou. “We fear that as the virus spreads from cities to regional and rural areas that many more lives will be lost among the unvaccinated,” he warned.
Unfair vaccine access
Matheou lamented the unfair access to vaccinations, pointing out that while they are at record rates in richer countries, many Southeast Asian nations have low portions of the population fully vaccinated and are languishing far behind. The United Kingdom has fully vaccinated 60 per cent of its population, while Canada and Spain stand at around 64 per cent and the United States at 50 per cent, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data updated until August 16.
By contrast, Indonesia and the Philippines, the most populous countries in Southeast Asia, have only fully vaccinated around 10-11 per cent of their people, while Vietnam sits at below 2 per cent. Malaysia has fully vaccinated 34 per cent of its population.
Seven of the top 10 countries where Covid -19 deaths have doubled the fastest are in Asia and the Pacific, with Vietnam, Fiji and Myanmar all in the top five, according to Our World in Data. Indonesia is the worst-case Covid-19 scenario in Southeast Asia, where a little over 10 per cent of the people have been fully inoculated. Currently, the country has one of the highest daily death tolls in the world, with 1,466 deaths reported on average over the past seven days.
Matheou stressed on the need for richer countries to “urgently share their millions of excess vaccine doses with countries in Southeast Asia” in the short term. Vaccine manufacturers and governments, he said, also need to share their technology and scale up production.
According to Matheou, “These coming weeks are critical for scaling up treatment, testing and vaccinations, in every corner of all countries in Southeast Asia.” He said,. “We must aim for mass vaccination rates of 70-80 per cent if we want to win the race against the variants and overcome this global pandemic.” Until vaccination levels reach a critical mass, in the short-term it is also crucial to reinforce health protection measures, such as wearing a mask, physical distance and meeting outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces.
The IFRC is seeking vital funding for its global emergency Covid-19 appeal, with around 60 per cent of the appeal covered so far. The funds are crucial to support the lifesaving actions of the IFRC and its member societies around the world.
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the IFRC is an international humanitarian aid organization that reaches 160 million people each year through its 192-member national societies. (Source: IFRC)