Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi (00:00): Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World—where in 15 minutes or less, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it for the better. My name is Lama Alsafi and I'm the host of this podcast. In this episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World, we're talking about a global vaccination response, a timely and important topic for all of us right now, as various COVID-19 vaccines begin to be administered in Canada. Our guest today is Julia Anderson, the CEO of CanWaCH—the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children's Health. Julia, thank you so much for joining us today.

Julia Anderson (01:07): So excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Lama Alsafi (01:10): Thanks for making the time. So Julia, can you tell us a bit about CanWaCH and the work that you do?

Julia Anderson (01:16): Absolutely. So CanWaCH is an organization of over a hundred non-government organizations, academic institutions, professional associations, and individuals. We represent all of the Canadian organizations, or most of the Canadian organizations, that are undertaking really important global health work around the world, and we pulled them all under one big tent in order to improve the way that we're doing that work globally, such as vaccine campaigns, et cetera. We pulled them under that big tent in order to track and capture the data that sort of the intersection of global health and gender equality. And we do that on a, on a place we call the Project Explorer and we also bring them together just to network and connect and hear each other's stories in order, ultimately, to improve the work they're doing around the world on women and children's health.

Lama Alsafi (02:14): Now Julia, more and more we're hearing politicians and international organizations speaking about a global vaccination response. I wonder, can you tell us why is a global approach needed in response to COVID-19 and how can we ensure this global response is just and equitable?

Julia Anderson (02:31): COVID-19 has really, I mean, it's shaken up everything from the way that we get our groceries, to the way that we move around our communities and around the world, and it's impacting human health and the economy in every country. This is not a Canadian challenge. This is truly a global challenge. And when we face these kinds of global collective challenges, we need to build global collective infrastructure to address them. And one of the biggest, you know, a key focus right now for us at CanWaCH, and a key focus for the government of Canada of course, needs to be on making sure that not only we have the infrastructure here at home for vaccinations, for robust vaccinations testing, diagnostics and all these things, but also that we have them around the world. And the reason for that is that if we are not thinking globally and are not globally minded, this pandemic is going to be very slow to end.

So with every kind of inward focus and the more we're just looking at ourselves, the longer we are going to prolong the impact, the economic impact, as well as the health impacts of the pandemic for Canadians and for all our global citizens around the world. The statistics are dramatic. I mean, there was a report released recently that said in 20, the first 25 weeks of the pandemic, the world has taken 25 years of setbacks in terms of progress. So in 25 weeks, we took 25 steps back. An equitable vaccine distribution will be the only thing that rights that ship and gets us to a place where we're thriving with a global economy that's working for Canadians with a global economy and health infrastructure, that's keeping Canadians safe. These things are all interconnected.

Lama Alsafi (04:28): I think this is incredible. You say 25 weeks, 25 years. I mean, having said this, there are still folks out there who are saying, you know, why should Canada be helping, you know, those around the world when we're struggling here at home? You know, times have never been tougher for some of us here in Canada. So why should we make these investments in others around the world? What do you say to these critics?

Julia Anderson (04:50): Well, I always say there's two sides of this argument. Both are equally important and both, I think, appeal to different citizens here in this country. And CanWaCH has undertaken polling to really test what Canadians believe about this. And we found an overwhelming astuteness or intelligence in the Canadian population that recognizes the global challenge and global challenges require global solutions. And we found an overwhelming amount of support over 76% of Canadians in a recent poll we undertook with Abacus Data, so that they support getting vaccines to healthcare workers everywhere because they know that's just smart. So smart, sustainable solutions, there's lots of arguments for them. I think, you know, one statistic that I found sort of shocking and really interesting was that for every $1 that Canada invests in a global response and a fully funded global vaccination program, it will get back over $5.60 cents in economic returns.

Julia Anderson (05:55): That means for every dollar that goes out the door to support mechanisms that are getting vaccines to the poorest and most vulnerable populations in the world actually has a direct benefit to Canada because of course we depend on the global economy in order to make, to have Canadians prosper and thrive. And then I think there's a really powerful, there's a really powerful moral argument or ethical argument that says, you know, if you look at history, Canadians have largely said, when you have preventable suffering in front of you, you've got to step up and do something about that.

Lama Alsafi (06:32): Julia, what is Canada currently doing to help ensure global cooperation with the COVID-19 vaccination response? And could we be doing more?

Julia Anderson (06:40): Yeah, I mean, Canada has contributed, last time we looked, was about 865 million to partner in what's called the ACT Accelerator. So that's the primary tool that has emerged to get an equitable distribution of vaccines around the world. That being said, the ACT Accelerator, the ACT, and other kinds of global responses that have called on countries like Canada, they're really only touching the tip of the iceberg. So we know that we are going to need a once in a generation—once in my lifetime hopefully, but certainly for the first time in my lifetime—investment in putting this world back into a better order than it was before. Inequality existed, previous to the pandemic, the pandemic has really exacerbated and it really brought to the surface all those inequalities. The sliver of opportunity to build back better, build forward better—there's lots of these phrases—Canada is going to need to step up in a really big way. We're going to have to show some leadership that the world is going to do something bigger than we ever imagined. We've seen that in terms of domestic spending. What we're talking about in civil society, as organizations, as the members under that big tent that I talked about is saying, look, if you take a hundred per cent of Canada's pandemic response, we think that 1% of those investments should go to this global challenge to go to this global collective action problem that ultimately again, will secure the interests of Canada and its place in this bigger world, but will also make sure that we're building back into a more equitable society that really starts to shift the inequalities that existed before and really, you know, create a space where we're all allowed to thrive.

Lama Alsafi (08:41): What about women and girls, Julia? Should Canada focus its international development efforts in building back in the recovery phase on women and girls?

Julia Anderson (08:50): We know that the pandemic has dramatically disproportionately impacted women and girls. That is a global phenomenon, that is not about them over there. We know that here in Canada, women have been the fastest to leave the workforce, that's missing in every single country. And that's because of, of course, childcare that's because, you know, often women are in a low paying and precarious employment. And like I said, this is one place where there's a lot of global solidarity between Canadian women and our colleagues and our friends and our counterparts around the world, and therefore the investments and the investments to unlock that future that looks brighter, more equal with healthier communities and healthier families is through investments in women and girls. And that's, you know, we think one of those key investments is around health, vaccine distribution will be absolutely foundational. Who gets a vaccine first—in a family, in a community, in a country—matters a lot. And we're saying right now we want to see the frontline healthcare workers, who are predominantly women, receive that vaccine first, and vulnerable populations. And we know that investments in women and girls, we know that the challenge is most dramatically felt by women and girls, and investments in women and girls will be key to unlocking that brighter and better future that we see just beyond the horizon.

Lama Alsafi (10:16): Are you optimistic Julia, about the road ahead, that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be available and accessible for everyone around the world?

Julia Anderson (10:24): I think my optimism is tempered. So I think some days I'm optimistic that COVID has really brought into light some of the dramatic disparities being felt around the world, because it's brought it to light in our own community. I think we are being forced into seeing things in a whole new way, and I believe that knowledge and that information can drive powerful transformation. On the other hand, you know, I said Canada was one of the lead donors in terms of vaccination and investing in vaccinations for the global community for the most marginalized around the world. We have not witnessed even close to the level of ambition that we need to see with the donor community—and that's, I'm talking about country, donor countries. We have not seen kind of the open conversation about how we're going to address this global challenge between a lot of what we're calling vaccine nationalism and this idea that, you know, this race to the vaccine and procuring and hoarding for us, for us, for us. Pieces of evidence on certain days I think are discouraging. And I really hope that we're going to learn the lessons that history has taught us about these global challenges and that we're going to act accordingly. But I would say I have days of optimism and then days of pessimism, but there's evidence out there for both. And I think the action that's required is, you know, chasing after that optimistic view.

Lama Alsafi (12:08): Julia finally, how can our listeners make a difference when it comes to a worldwide vaccination response? How can those who are listening right now, what are the actions that they can take to help?

Julia Anderson (12:18): I start talking global economy and I start talking about global health infrastructure and people don't necessarily sort of think, well, how can I as one individual make an impact? So the first thing I like to say to preface that question is you can make an impact and your actions do matter. So what are the kinds of actions that really matter and that are highly impactful. Talk to your government officials. I mean, we hear from Canadians that they care a lot about Canada stepping up and who Canada is in the world. And we hear from Canadian officials often that the only people that call their office are the ones who don't support these kinds of notions. And so we need to create an overwhelming wave of phone calls saying, look, look, Government of Canada, I expect you to step up, congratulations on what you've done, we've got to do more.

This is a once in a generation challenge. And we've really got to show up as a piece of the global puzzle and a productive piece. So even if you don't have the perfect talking points, just make the phone call, send an email, send a tweet saying that global health matters and that Canada can play a constructive role. The other thing is I talked about our over a hundred members that are under our big tent. Really encourage you to check out our website at www.canwach.ca. And on the website, you can see profiles of our amazing member organizations, and almost every single one of them has a little tab that says how to get involved. So click through, check out the Project Explorer that maps out all these amazing Canadian initiatives happening around the world. And that's also something you can share with your local politician too to say, Hey, I know a little bit about what Canada's doing. Check out this map, and let's talk about where we could do more, where I think we could do more. So those are two very practical examples, but within the Check Out Our Members [website section], there are hundreds and thousands of opportunities for you to get more involved. So I would say with three clicks, you can be into some, some pretty interesting information and some amazing opportunities to really step up and become a global leader in health inequality.

Lama Alsafi (14:34): Thank you, Julia. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today about such an important topic.

Julia Anderson (14:39): It has been a real pleasure and don't hesitate to reach out on Twitter, on LinkedIn. My virtual door is open and I love sort of hearing from people and hearing their reflections.

Lama Alsafi (14:52): Well, we'll definitely look out for you online and we hope to continue to keep the conversation going about how we can all work together to advocate for a fair global vaccination response. Thank you also to all of our listeners for tuning in. You can stay up-to-date on our newest episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify, iTunes and on care.ca/podcast.