Sunday, August 23, 2020

Vaccine Nationalism: The Ethical Conundrum in the age of Global Pandemic

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COVID-19 Vaccine Race | Source: Alfredo Martirena via Cartoon Movement

O People! Make way for the latest horrendous development of the infamous year 2020. We have straight out of the oven, the freshest item on the menu of ethical conundrums “Vaccine Nationalism”.

It seems like the cure is as dangerous as people dying of the COVID-19. Currently, according to the WHO, six vaccines have reached phase 3 trials, while 25 vaccines are in the clinical evaluation phase and 139 in pre-clinical evaluation.

COVID-19 Vaccine Nationalism | Marian Kamensky via Cartoon Movement

When the pandemic hit different parts of the world, the first response of the humans was to attack supermarkets and hoard loads of groceries (yes, toilet papers too). Vaccine Nationalism is just analogous to hoarding toilet papers, except, it’s just a phenomenon that occurs when rich countries pay for vaccines in advance and hoard them. Don’t worry politicians are not doing what they did not promise: remember ‘America first?’ and ‘India first?’

A global initiative by WHO – ACT (Access to COVID-19 Tools) Accelerator- aims at a cumulative process of R&D, manufacturing, regulatory, purchasing and procurement needed to fight against COVID-19. Unfortunately, the USA, Russia, India, and China did not receive the initiative with much-needed enthusiasm. The WHO also came up with another program called COVAX facility, that aims to provide 2 billion doses of vaccine by the end of the next year for middle and low-income countries.

Source: Brandon Reynolds via BusinessDay

The US compared its operation ‘Warp speed’ to the oxygen masks dropping during the flights. Russia tried to jump ahead, attempting to create a Sputnik moment. Russian President announced Russia curated the first COVID-19 vaccine called Sputnik V. The vaccines are still under trials and need much more necessary testing to work. Safe to say, Russia’s plan backfired earning them international scorn.

Vaccine nationalism will lead to global dysfunction. Rich countries will benefit as they can bid for the vaccine at high prices. Such high prices will lead to a disaster for the low-income countries, adding to their already deficient health care. These desperate countries will have no choice but to buy vaccines driving their economies in an even worse condition. Additionally, a single country having a vaccine will not help the problem in any way at all. Some nations have already gambled their chances of acquiring vaccines by speaking against other countries.

The unethical practice of Vaccine Nationalism is not at all unexpected. A bid against humanity is not entirely new. Similar responses were noted in 2009 when the world H1N1 flu crisis hit. Australia came up with a vaccine and sold 6,00,00 doses to the USA, blocking the exports to other countries. Once the effect of flu started diminishing, rich countries donated the vaccines to low-income nations. A similar situation happened in 2014 when the EBOLA crisis hit.

Politics aside, scientists are staying out of it and trying to work together for greater good. Instead of publishing research papers they are working collaboratively throughout the world. We must not forget that finding a cure or a significant role can earn a lot of scientists, assets, reputation, and promotions. Some lure away and are suspicious of sharing their work as well.

Rabindranath Tagore’s Portrait | Source: Wikimedia

When the search for a vaccine against such deadly disease mutates into a naked display of Vaccine Nationalism, Indian Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s view on nationalism becomes an antidote. He believed in an idea of nationalism without borders. Tagore once described in a letter to his friend AM Bose that “the value of patriotism can never be greater than the value of humanity.”

It is a human tendency to compete and nature supports the fittest. How fit is it though to use strong nations’ ability to bully other unequipped nations? How generous is it to help others when they don’t even need help anymore? How ethical and moral is to block vaccine procurement for other countries for monetary and economic benefits?

These are some of the questions lost in the drumbeats of Vaccine Nationalism which is echoing across the continents. It's high time that concerned citizens should demand answers from their respective government to come clean on the real motive behind the call for developing a vaccine for global pandemic in a silo, when it actually needs global cooperation.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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