Kailash Satyarthi Calls for Urgent Financing and Action for the World’s Poorest Children Left Behind by COVID-19


National: Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi addressed delegates at the opening of the 74th World Health Assembly virtually and called on countries to take urgent action for the millions of children living in extreme poverty, whose families are suffering devastating impacts of COVID-19. The event was attended by global leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres among others.

This included support for COVAX and intellectual property waivers on vaccines, as well as targeted international and national action plans to protect children, directly and indirectly, affected by the pandemic.

Thanking healthcare and frontline professionals, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and World Health Organization for their tireless work, Mr Satyarthi called the 74th World Health Assembly  a “defining time in our society,” and described the current situation as “a crisis of justice, a crisis of civilisation, and a crisis of humanity.”

Mr. Satyarthi’s comments come in the backdrop of his first-hand experience of the catastrophe that has befallen the poor and marginalised communities who have little or no access to healthcare or vaccinations. He said, “The world has suffered as one, but we have not suffered equally.” He cited both the Fair Share for Children Report, which identified that just 0.13 per cent – or $10 billion – of the global $8 trillion COVID-19 relief package went to multilateral efforts for the world’s poorest countries. He also highlighted that while the world has suffered as one, we have not suffered equally. Two-third of the world’s largest companies made an additional profit of $109 billion in 2020, he said, adding, that at least 140 million more children have been pushed into extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic, and the number of children being exploited in child labour is expected to increase for the first time in decades.

Mr Satyarthi spelled out four main demands in his address at the World Health Assembly.

  • Multi-sectoral partnership for children: Inter-agency High-Level Group to recommend concrete and time-bound actions to safeguard our children who are directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19.
  • Waiver of all intellectual property restrictions on COVID-19 vaccine: 170 former world leaders and Nobel Laureates demanded the waiver of intellectual property restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines.
  • Protect our children now from imminent mutation of the virus: Organise focused consultations with experts to support the efforts of the WHO and national governments to protect the most left-behind children from the virus.
  • Budgeted action plans and constitution of task forces: Urge all Health Ministers to create budgeted action plans and constitute Task Forces to reach the poorest and most marginalized children through vaccination, pediatric facilities, and social protection floors. High-income countries must support this.

Incidentally, Nobel Peace Laureate Mr Kailash Satyarthi is one of almost 200 former heads of state and Nobel Laureates who called on President Biden to waive WTO intellectual-property rules, coordinated by the People’s Vaccine coalition. During his address, Mr Satyarthi thanked President Biden for his support and called on other world leaders to follow suit.

In his concluding remarks, he said, “Profits, politics, and property can wait, but not our children. Their freedom, safety and childhood cannot wait. If we leave children behind, any investments in healthcare will fall through the cracks between one generation and the next… As we move from the wreckage of this pandemic, let us take all our children with us.”