ANKARA 

As the World Health Assembly (WHA) is set to convene on Monday, prominent personalities from across the globe urged world powers to pledge a free “COVID-19 vaccine for all” when available.

An open letter signed by over 140 global leaders and experts urged governments and international partners to ensure that when a safe and effective vaccine is developed, “it is produced rapidly at scale and made available for all people, in all countries, free of charge.”

“Humanity today, in all its fragility, is searching for an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19. It is our best hope of putting a stop to this painful global pandemic,” the letter said.

After originating in China last December, COVID-19 has spread to at least 188 countries and regions. Europe and the US are currently the worst-hit regions.

The pandemic has killed over 304,600 worldwide, with total infections nearing 4.5 million and more than 1.61 million recoveries from the disease, according to figures compiled by the US-based Johns Hopkins University.

Health ministers from across the globe will attend the WHA on May 18, with COVID-19 topping the agenda.

In the letter, the leaders, including presidents of South Africa, Ghana and Senegal, and prime ministers of Finland and Pakistan, acknowledged efforts by many countries and international organizations towards producing vaccine.

“Our world will only be safer once everyone can benefit from the science and access a vaccine — and that is a political challenge,” said the letter.

Urging the WHA health ministers to renew commitments made at the founding of the World Health Organization, the letter said: “We cannot afford for monopolies, crude competition and near-sighted nationalism to stand in the way.

“We must heed the warning that ‘those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it’. We must learn the painful lessons from a history of unequal access in dealing with disease such as HIV and Ebola,” it added.

The letter also called for “urgent need to reform and strengthen public health systems worldwide” in which all barriers for vulnerable people are removed “so that rich and poor alike can access the healthcare, technologies and medicines they need, free at the point of need”.

“Only a people’s vaccine — with equality and solidarity at its core — can protect all of humanity and get our societies safely running again. A bold international agreement cannot wait,” it added.

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