ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL
HIGH-LEVEL POLITICAL FORUM, 3RD & 4TH MEETINGS (AM & PM)
Temporary school closures during the COVID-19 crisis left 1.6 billion children unable to learn — 91 per cent of students worldwide — including nearly 369 million who rely on school meals for daily nutrition, speakers in the high-level political forum on sustainable development stressed today, as they called for the wholesale transformation of education systems towards those that place student needs at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The call to action dovetailed with presentations made throughout the day by academics, policy makers, United Nations experts, civil society speakers and representatives from local governments who emphasized the central and dynamic role of Sustainable Development Goal 4 (quality education) in realizing the 17 other Goals anchoring the global promise to “leave no one behind”.
“The longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return,” said Haoyi Chen of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs Statistics Division, as she presented highlights from the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (document E/2022/55), to be launched on 7 July.
With that in mind, Leonardo Garnier, Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Transforming Education Summit, emphasized that even before the pandemic the world was “not even close” to realizing Goal 4. Those attending school were not learning the basics.
In his keynote address, he emphasized that the transformation of education means developing each student’s capacity to understand the building blocks of knowledge that are essential for critical thinking — and further — to understand what it means to live together, grounded in knowledge of ethics, justice, civic responsibility and a commitment to sustainable development. For education to reach such heights, schools must become safe, healthy and stimulating places for learning for every child, without discrimination, he said.
Throughout the day, delegates took part in three panel discussions that explored, respectively, Goal 4’s links with the other Sustainable Development Goals, the role of local and regional governments in achieving the 2030 Agenda, and efforts to ensure equal access to vaccines and resources in the world’s poorest countries. Many speakers shared their views on national efforts to place learning needs at the heart of their efforts to recover from COVID-19.
In that context, Bangladesh’s representative — picking up a central theme of all three panels — raised the issue of cost, which often impedes the ability of developing countries to accelerate reforms.
The Minister for Basic Education of Sierra Leone, however, noted that before COVID-19, the Government spent 20 per cent of its budget on education, but then raised it to 22 per cent during the pandemic — with the key word being “investment”.
On that point, Madeleine Zuniga, Vice-President and founding member of Foro Educativo in Peru, called for investment in high quality training of teachers. Investment cannot simply be viewed in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), she argued.
The Minister for Education of Finland, meanwhile, advocated for investment in green and digital transitions so all can learn, re-skill and up-skill throughout their lives.
“Education is not a privilege,” said panelist Charles North, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education. Nor is it an opportunity. “It is a human right.” He urged leaders to show greater political will to finance education, notably by signing the Heads of State Call to Action on Education Financing.
The Economic and Social Council high level political forum on sustainable development will reconvene at 9:00 a.m. Thursday, 7 July.
Leonardo Garnier, Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Transforming Education Summit said that even before the pandemic, the world was “not even close” to realizing Sustainable Development Goal 4. Those attending school were not learning the basics. Noting that the Transforming Education Summit in September aims to galvanize support for guaranteeing quality education for all, as agreed in Goal 4, he emphasized that it holds the potential to be a turning point. He called for shifting away from “doing things a little faster” and instead, aiming higher, by transforming education into a passionate path for self-discovery and development.
Transformation in this context means developing each student’s capacity to understand the basic building blocks of knowledge that are essential for critical thinking and, importantly, distinguishing from fake or unsubstantiated arguments, he continued. It is also important to develop learning about how to live together, which has to do with ethics, justice, civic responsibility and commitment to sustainable development. Another goal is to develop the capacity to enjoy life, including through the “sublime aspects” of human endeavour, and to express ourselves through the arts and physical activity.
For education to reach such heights, he called for the just transformation of schools into safe, healthy and stimulating places for learning for every child, without discrimination. Teachers — and the teaching profession — must transform from passive to active, from “teaching answers” to promoting learning on the basis of curiosity. They must become guides for children to develop into autonomous adults. He stressed that the world is living through a digital revolution and digital resources are among the most powerful tools for “helping teachers teach, and learners learn”.
However, they could also become a force for fostering digital inequality, he said, noting that millions of students in low- and middle-income countries lack access to learning equipment and the Internet. These are digital public goods, which once produced, can be widely used, with little or no additional cost. However, if left to the market, they could become artificially scarce and expensive. Research points to the educational advantages of increasing investment in education. “Why don’t we just do it?” he asked. The answer has to do with specific contexts: when a country is highly unequal, it can find itself in a poverty trap, marked by unsophisticated but highly profitable investments and little need for human capital. For the Transforming Education Summit to succeed, it will have to ignite a movement to transform education against poverty traps.
Haoyi Chen, Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, presented highlights from the upcoming report of the Secretary-General on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (document E/2022/55) — which will be launched on 7 July. Before the pandemic, 17 per cent of youth were out of primary and secondary school. From March 2020 to February 2022, schools were entirely or partially closed, on average, for 41 weeks, with 147 million children missing half of their in-person instruction. The longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return, she said, pointing out that those in poor countries are also less likely to have the devices, Internet access or home environment conducive for learning. As of May 2022, two-thirds of Ukraine’s children were displaced, 130 education facilities were destroyed and 1,500 schools were damaged, she added. Providing safe, inclusive and continuing education is a lifeline for these children to cope with current and future crises.
Following her remarks, presentations focused on the innovations in education featured in the Voluntary National Reviews were made by Joy-Marie King, Director of International Trade, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Immigration, Antigua and Barbuda; and Natia Tsikaradze, Acting Head of the Strategic Planning and Coordination Unit, Policy Planning and Coordination Department, Administration of the Government of Georgia, National Coordinator of Sustainable Development Goals.
Ms. KING, noting that education is free and compulsory for all children between 5 and 16 years in Antigua and Barbuda, said emphasis has been placed on revising curricula so it is more grounded in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Even before the pandemic, the Government implemented a range of projects aimed at providing cushioning for education. However, COVID-19 wreaked havoc, including impacting a school meals programme and a behavioural management programme to provide a safe environment for learning. She went on to say that technical and vocational training is also a strategic focus, with courses in electronics and refrigeration, for example. The Government also announced its intention to allocate £4 million to establish a technical centre for “second chance” and lifelong learning opportunities.
Ms. TSIKARADZE said Georgia has strongly embedded the 2030 Agenda in national policies and planning and is committed to realizing the goal of leaving no one behind. She stressed that education is a key component of achieving all the Goals and is among Georgia’s highest priorities. The Government has made significant progress in reforming education and developing demand-based hiring learning to address a skills mismatch problem. During the pandemic, Georgia, like many countries, required an immediate and targeted response; the education sector was pushed to apply innovative solutions. The pandemic forced Georgia to reimagine education and embrace technology. Despite significant gains, all levels of education are facing quality challenges, she acknowledged, notably to enhance skills for the digital transformation and in the development of the digital education and research ecosystem.
Panel 1: Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education)
Stefania Giannini, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Assistant Director-General for Education, moderated the panel which featured presentations by: Omar Abdi, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Deputy Executive Director for Programmes; Sheam Satkuru, Executive Director of the International Tropical Timber Organization; Charles North, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education; Susan Hopgood, President of Education International; Doris Mwikali, SDG4 Youth Network representative to the SDG4 Education 2030 High-level Steering Committee Sherpa Group.
Ms. GIANNINI, opening the panel, said there is urgent need to transform education, as it holds the key to sustainable futures for humanity and the planet. She described a pre-summit hosted last week by UNESCO, which gathered 1,900 participants — including two Heads of State and 154 education ministers. She pointed out that 9 out of 10 countries have already set national benchmarks for progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4, detailed in a report published today. “This is part of the good news we have to highlight in this session,” she said.
Mr. ABDI said that it is an undisputed fact that shaping a better future for every child depends on access to quality education. A generation without education is one without the ability to build inclusive sustainable societies. Thus, education is a critical element in accelerating progress to reach all Sustainable Development goals. However, the pandemic exacerbated the learning crisis. Nearly two-thirds of 10-year-olds are unable to read a simple story. “This is the reality of the global learning crisis,” he said, calling for urgent action to avoid a learning catastrophe. In addition, an estimated 100 million people have fallen into poverty, with 9 million at risk of child labour by the end of 2022. Further, 10 million girls may be pushed into child marriage by the end of the decade. There must be an investment in establishing a foundation of education for all children, he stressed, adding that children who can read can develop transferable skills and have greater economic mobility. He called on all Governments to take rapid action to reach every child and to keep them in school. They must also assess where children are and scale up learning; prioritize teaching the fundamentals; increase efficiency of teaching; and support children’s emotional and physical wellbeing.
Ms. HOPGOOD, noting that she represents 32 million teachers and support personnel around the world, cited a study showing that the world is off track in achieving Goal 4. However, although she had hoped to report significant progress, she said that due in part to the pandemic, the world faces nothing less than an education crisis, amid budget cuts, student dropouts and teachers leaving the profession due to poor conditions, low salaries and unmanageable workloads. Some say achieving the Goals is impossible, that the work is essential, but the Goals are stubbornly out of reach. “We are here to say that view is wrong,” she said, adding: “Teaching itself is an act of optimism.” In the last two years alone, hope combined with hard work made frontline teachers the “chief adaptation officers” of nearly every school system across the world. The lessons teachers learned was that commitment and persistence — multiplied by millions of educators, school employees, students and their families — cannot overcome financially starved systems, top-down policies or autocratic institutions or States that keep doors closed to social dialogue and collaboration. They need a new deal. This means valuing teachers, paying them properly, ensuring decent work conditions, guaranteeing labour rights, investing in their professional development and involving them in policy decisions.
Ms. SATKURU said the International Tropical Timber Organization has discovered that the consequences of the pandemic on Goal 4 have been tremendous in the tropics. And in turn, the repercussions on Goals 1, 2, 5, 8, 12, 15 and 17 have naturally impacted heavily on Goal 4. She called for further intersectoral, collaborative measures among the various themes that the high-level political forum is making serious attempts to address, as well as collaboration among international organizations that have an impact on domestic policy. Noting that her organization is part of the Collaborative Partnership on Forests, she said that, along with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, it led a project on education, resulting in an international conference financed by Germany. The outputs and gaps identified were “quite tremendous”, she said. Among the lessons learned, participants underscored that tertiary education must be fit-for-purpose, with links within the forestry sector to competing land use challenges, such as agriculture, infrastructure and mining. “Forests must play a central role in the discussions on climate change,” she insisted, as they are home to the planet’s mega biodiversity. Education therefore must be sufficient in reaching a common understanding that tropical forests have a critical role to play.
Lead Discussants then took to the floor, sharing viewpoints on educational approaches to attaining Goal 4.
VICTORIA HUALLPA MAMANI, member of ATD Fourth World in El Alto, Bolivia, said that for families in poverty, sending children to school is a major choice between education or seeking the means of survival. Teachers may tend to focus on the child who can do the least. This brings little progress. As well, schools often do not recognize the knowledge children have received from their families — which leads to children often feeling ashamed. Such situations, in turn, lead to distrust and fear, she said, noting teachers must foster solidarity to build students’ self-esteem. When children help each other, they make more progress, realizing that by giving, they can also receive.
MADELEINE ZUNIGA, Vice-President and founding member of Foro Educativo in Peru, added her agreement to what she heard regarding Sustainable Development Goal 4 and the opportunities to make progress. Education worldwide was badly wounded by the pandemic, which exacerbated existing wounds. The education model must consider children of poor and indigenous backgrounds, including street children, those with disabilities and other marginalized groups, who are often not taken into account. She called for investment in high quality training of teachers means investment, which should not just be viewed in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). In addition, those involved must understand how countries’ tax systems work, and combat tax evasion and corruption.
Respondents then took the floor to share their views.
DAVID MOININA SENGEH, Minister for Basic Education of Sierra Leone and Co-chair of the Advisory committee for Transforming Education Summit, said the world is at a point of inflection, urgency and convergence. There can be no sustainable development without education. Yet it has not been working for everyone, as too many are left behind — especially the poor, rural, disabled people, and girls. Poverty cannot be eliminated without adult education and lifelong learning and skills development. He noted that before COVID-19, Sierra Leone spent 20 per cent of its budget on education, but then raised it to 22 per cent during the pandemic — with the key word being “investment”. The country is focusing on inclusion to bring in the poor, rural people and girls, especially those who are pregnant. When education is focused on those on the outside, the result is better for all.
LI ANDERSSON, Minister for Education of Finland said the world needs a paradigm shift, viewing education not as an expenditure, but a necessary long-term investment — especially in teachers, in their competencies, working conditions, well-being and the revalorization of their work. She drew attention to Finland’s over 70-year history of free school meals, and its efforts to build a global school meals coalition with a goal to ensure every child can have a healthy meal in school by 2030. Educational systems must advance collaborative planning, and enhance the value of education, as flexible education systems tend to be more resilient. In addition, there should be investment in green and digital transitions so all can learn, re-skill and up-skill throughout their lives.
MARIE MICHELLE SAHONDRARIMALALA, Minister for Education of Madagascar, said that resilience is not a choice but an obligation for a country like hers, given over 8,500 classrooms were destroyed by cyclones this year. She cited reforms, including in decentralization and community involvement in education management, through the appointment of budget actors to the very bottom of the administrative pyramid, with parents’ association prioritized. She also noted a 20 per cent increase at the budgetary level, with the State taking care of taxes for schools and their anti-cyclone kits. Learning manuals, radio, television and other broadcasts are being provided, along with reforms of education policy, and a one-year mandatory pre-school programme. At the civic level, values are prioritized including respect for life, peaceful coexistence, and the advancement of girls’ literacy.
As the floor opened to delegates, many described national goals and progress made, as well as challenges experienced resulting from the pandemic.
The representative of Romania said the summit is timely, as the world is lagging behind on many targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. The world must recover better from the pandemic, overcoming the digital divide and other challenges. Educational systems must be relevant and fit for the needs of students. She also stressed that the war in Ukraine must also be addressed.
Zambia’s delegate said COVID-19 disrupted education for more than 4.4 million learners. His Government is building a system more resilient to future emergencies, paying attention to those most affected by school closures and working to ensure the return of all learners to safe schools.
The representative of Bangladesh, noting 147 million children were affected by the pandemic, said the summit provides an opportunity to eliminate barriers to education. However, she also noted was that cost was a major impediment. The pandemic illustrated the benefits of e-learning, which requires more Internet initiatives and investment. It is further imperative for educational systems to adapt quickly to new and evolving challenges.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, noted that education has a tremendous transformative power for a just recovery, and is a key enabler in achieving all the Goals. The European Union is increasing its support for education globally, especially in Africa, and in the coming years will prioritize investments in teachers, equity and skills for the next generation. The bloc further supports the Global Partnership for Education and Education Cannot Wait, he said.
China’s delegate said the world is living through times of change unprecedented in a century. Education must be prioritized, as it plays a fundamental and trailblazing role. She advocated for education that promotes all-around human development and integrates personal fulfilment. Countries must push for the digitalization of education and green education to promote an ecological civilization.
Also speaking were representatives of Norway, Mexico, Czech Republic and Spain. A representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also spoke.
In a second round of panel presentations, Mr. NORTH, recalling last week’s UNESCO pre-summit where participants set out a vision for transformation, pushed political leaders to realize that vision by prioritizing policy reforms in and out of the classroom. Such policy reforms would place the learner at the centre, while also hardwiring gender equality in education policies and increasing political will to finance education, notably by signing the Heads of State Call to Action on Education Financing. As well, the international community must commit to efficiency and greater alignment behind country priorities. Over the next year, countries must deliver the transformation at the scale that young people need. Noting that some countries are developing critical pathways to system transformation, he called for urgent action to end violence in and around schools, which affects girls and boys differently. He also called for united global action to mobilize more domestic and international resources, with a focus on the efficiency of spending, coordinating country resources and helping countries expand fiscal space, notably by reducing their debt burden. “Education is not a privilege. It is not an opportunity. It is a human right,” he stressed.
Ms. MWIKALI urged countries to support young people’s meaningful engagement in transforming education, stressing that they are equipped to be innovative in addressing the crisis, unemployment and the digital divide. She welcomed the European Union’s support for the youth declaration at last week’s pre-summit and expressed hope others would likewise commit to the document. “We do not want young people to be outside the room,” she asserted, urging Governments to support similar youth declarations to the Transforming Education Summit, engage young people in national consultations and to showcase the lived experiences of all young people, in particular, refugees, and those affected by the climate crisis and the digital divide.
Ms. MAMANI started off the interactive dialogue, underscoring that there is great difference between private and public education in Latin America. Public education is worse as it does not foster any aspiration to take on professional work. “When schools do not teach well, children lose the confidence to learn,” she stressed, calling for specialized teachers to be placed in each subject-matter classroom, smaller class sizes and the same educational quality across schools.
Ms. ZUNIGA called for bearing in mind that education cannot solve all problems facing countries today. Governments have a responsibility to provide high quality education, as well as ensure that intersectoral work is carried out. She pointed to a sharp rise in educational disparities, underlining the need for all sectors to tackle them, not simply the education sector. “The right to education is a universal human right,” she stressed, denouncing the privatization of education that prevents poor people from learning.
JOSÉ MAURICIO PINEDA, Minister for Education of El Salvador ad interim, said a better path must be set to guarantee quality education and leave no one behind. An inclusive, fair and quality education must be ensured for all. During the pandemic, El Salvador made significant contributions to education, increasing its contribution from 3.2 per cent to 5.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in order to reduce gaps in education. It has adopted its first law on primary education, which includes cross-cutting aspects such as gender inclusion and lifelong learning. To ensure continuous learning during the pandemic, its rapid response included establishing a training model that reached all the teachers in the public schools and teachers in half the private schools. Stressing that the rainy season in his country led to the closure of schools, he appealed to industrialized countries to take action to enable his country to address climate change.
ISHIKANE KIMIHIRO (Japan), Chair of the Group of Friends for education, said the international community needs to recover unprecedented learning losses caused by the pandemic, as well as urgently improve the quality of education in a transformative manner. Discussions in the Group of Friends on Education have included addressing how quality education can empower learners with skills to face a complex future. In an age of uncertainty, the best way forward is to invest in people, he stressed, adding that education is the most helpful tool to help people make the right decisions and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. To that end, the Group of Friends remains committed to achieving Goal 4 and bringing forth transformative changes in education.
In the ensuing discussion, participants talked about their national experiences and strategies in enhancing educational goals.
The representative of Botswana said his country continues to pioneer free education programs. Education was disrupted in his country during the pandemic, leading to three forced school closures. To mitigate the pandemic’s impact, education delivery has been reimagined to strengthen its educational system, including development of an inclusive tertiary education.
The representative of Portugal said his country’s plan for 2021-2023 aims to strengthen the autonomy of schools and its education strategy to combat inequalities. New technologies and e-learning tools were adopted to improve the relationship between schools and vulnerable communities. The implementation of digital tools must be preceded by eliminating existing gaps in access to energy and existing technologies. Moreover, States must enact measures to enable a safe space online free from violence and abuse.
The representative of Switzerland said strengthened cooperation is needed to ensure that curricula play a key role in education. For this reason, his country supports the Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies. Expressing concern with the pandemic’s impact on the equal opportunity for education among children, he said the immediate and long-term impact of the absence of an educational response must be tackled immediately. His country is co-organizing a high-level conference for education in 2023.
The representative of Sweden emphasized the importance of international partnerships and building capacity with those partners. Her country contributes 1 per cent of its gross national income through official development assistance, offering municipalities in Sweden the opportunity to work with international partners and build capacity together. That municipality partnership program focuses on democracy, innovation and gender-inclusion, and led to work in partnerships with Hanoi and Nairobi for more than 10 years.
The representative of Ukraine said his country’s education sector has been seriously affected by the pandemic and, since February, by the Russian Federation’s military aggression. More than 2,000 educational institutions have been damaged due to bombing and shelling and more than 200 have been destroyed. Nonetheless, his country is trying to adopt public policies amid war. Creating safe conditions is necessary for the survival of Ukrainian education, he stressed, adding that the continuation of teaching and learning in his country is due to efforts of teachers despite the numerous challenges they face.
The representative of Malawi said schools were closed at the peak of the pandemic, sharply increasing the number of teen pregnancies and child marriages. Her country is also faced with other challenges, including in the provision of free education, quality education for those with special needs, among others, and higher education loan funds. Her country proposed innovative financing in its education sector, including expanding public-private partnerships, as well as increasing digital solutions and e-distance learning to improve access to education.
The representative of Iran said his country’s educational system is focused on research, skills and creativity, and training, while taking into account its national, cultural and religious values. It has designed a social network for students and teachers to gain access to educational packages in a safe place. Turning to its humanitarian efforts, he said more than half a million refugees have been enrolled in Iranian schools.
The representative of Vietnam said her country is developing educational development indicators as monitoring tools for its development strategies for 2021-2030. Her country has also carried out measures to prevent disruption in education, such as switching to online education and providing computers and other technologies to people in hardships.
A representative of the Women’s Major Group said children in crisis situations have been out of school for many years. Girls have been most severely affected, increasing opportunities for early marriage and gender-based violence and limiting their opportunities to access education. She called on Governments and development partners to invest in mainstreaming gender-responsive education sector plans and budgets to ensure a gender-responsive intersectional approach to humanitarian work.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of France, Ethiopia, South Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cuba and Qatar.
Panel 2: Acting at the Local Level
The forum then held a panel discussion on “Acting at the Local Level”. Moderated by Lydia Capolicchio, Swedish journalist, it featured presentations by Mustafa Uzbaş, Deputy Mayor of Konya Metropolitan Municipality, Türkiye; Rose Keffas, Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on the Sustainable Development Goals, Nigeria; and Ville Taajamaa, focal point for Sustainable Development Goal work in the City of Espoo, and Editor in Chief for Espoo VLR2020, Finland.
Mr. UZBAS, underscoring the importance of actions that benefit young people, said his municipality has provided nearly 40,000 bicycles to young people in Konya, opened libraries and allowed older people free access to transport. Ms. KEFFAS, meanwhile stressed the importance of voluntary local reviews, data collection and programme development to help the most vulnerable. Local communities have been closely involved in the creation of these programmes, she said. Mr. TAAJAMAA agreed that young people must be involved in local governance, while Mr. BYANJU said his city has completed its local voluntary review, with a focus on Goals 4 (quality education) and 6 (clean water and sanitation). Almost all programmes are in line with the Goals, he assured, citing a drinking water programme and efforts to combat poverty. He also stressed the importance of cooperation and political will to achieve sustainable development.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates highlighted innovative approaches taken by their countries to empower local governments, with Jamaica’s representative stressing that local authorities understand that inclusiveness, accountability, human and financial resources are required. Guatemala’s delegate similarly said her country supports local governments to implement their municipal development plans, and that the 365 plans currently in place cover 90 per cent of the municipalities. France’s delegate referenced efforts made by the city of Evian to be more sustainable, supportive, inclusive, responsible and resilient, notably a free sanitary protection scheme for women. The representatives of the Czech Republic and Norway, meanwhile, said all actors — at national and local levels — must work to achieve the Goals, a point echoed by the speaker from the Children and Youth Major Group, who called for strengthened global partnership.
At the dialogue’s conclusion, two real-time surveys were conducted, with one showing that 41 per cent of delegations believed that coordination between local and national authorities for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals can still be improved, while 28 per cent considered it satisfactory.
Perhaps signalling the work to be done, 71 per cent of forum delegates responded that the Sustainable Development Goals are known among “too few” people in their countries.
[Coverage of the first part of this panel was hampered by a technical problem.]
Panel 3: Ensuring Equal Access to Vaccines
In the afternoon, the Council held a panel discussion on “Ensuring equal access to vaccines and resources in the poorest countries.” Moderated by Rabab Fatima (Bangladesh), Co-chair of Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries Preparatory Committee, the panel featured Resource Persons: Taffere Tesfachew, Acting Managing Director of the United Nations Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries, and Member of the Committee on Development Policy; Preeti Sinha, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Capital Development Fund; Farid Fezoua, Global Director for Health and Education, International Finance Corporation; and Mihir Kanade, Member for the Asia-Pacific region of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, Academic Director of the University for Peace (UPEACE), Head of Department of International Law and Human Rights and Director of the UPEACE Human Rights Centre.
Ms. FATIMA said African countries, least developed countries and landlocked developing countries, without adequate access to vaccines, remain disproportionately affected by the ongoing pandemic. Many States are already in debt distress, and the situation of women, pushed out of the workforce, is of particular concern. While the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for 70 per cent global coverage by mid-2022, less than 20 per cent of people in Africa are fully vaccinated. This must be reversed, she said, calling for urgent action by developed countries. Increased official development assistance (ODA) is required more than ever, she said, along with access to technology and more financing sources.
Mr. TESFACHEW said the pandemic illustrates the speed of technology with vaccine development and rollout. It also revealed the deep technology divide. Among the developing countries, Sustainable Development Goal 9C has only been reached in Bangladesh and Bhutan. Youth must be given access to technology, as 60 per cent of the population in least developed countries are under 25 — some 25 per cent of the world’s youth — a generation expected to transform those States out of poverty. He called for increased international community cooperation, including through the United Nations technology bank, citing over 120 technology training centres in Türkiye for 13- to 18-year-olds in software, coding and other sectors.
Mr. FEZOUA said the pandemic has awakened the international community to the importance of equitable access to vaccines and effective healthcare systems; however, the supply chain is fragile. He cited work to build up the Institut Pasteur de Dakar in Senegal to develop vaccines, including beyond COVID-19. Focus is also on creating a hub in West Africa, as well as Government and private sector partnerships in Rwanda. It is important to sustain local production and manufacturing, he emphasized, as well as health-care system. Last-mile delivery has been an ongoing weakness, he noted, pointing out that Africa only has 350 drug makers serving 1.2 billion people, while India, by comparison, has some 10,000 drug makers. However, he said he was encouraged by emerging partnerships on the continent.
Ms. SINHA underscored the need for a dedicated financing facility for the least developed countries. One of the main constraints is access to loans for small- and medium-sized enterprises. The United Nations has a role to play in providing access to capital. She spotlighted the need for a de-risking facility — as private capital will not flow to developing countries without some form of guarantee mechanism — along with access to capital markets and instruments such as green bonds. She further echoed support for the development of local production facilities.
Mr. KANADE focused on the duty of international cooperation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which were already facing annual deceleration since 2015. The alphabetical targets are the means of achieving the Goals, with Goal 17 being essential to reaching the other 16. He cited vaccine nationalism and hoarding by developed countries as the main hindrances to the COVAX Facility. According to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, only 19 per cent of the population in Africa is fully vaccinated. Cooperation is a legal obligation rather than simply a moral one and its absence is a violation of human rights law. “It is a duty, not a charity,” he stressed.
As the floor opened up for dialogue, the Lead Discussants shared their views.
UGOJI ADANMA EZE, Chief Executive Officer and founder of Engr. Aja Eze Foundation asked Mr. Kanade about the need to stimulate political will and create accountability for health security and investment, and to encourage political leaders to prioritize global health security, as well as for transparency. She called for increased international financing form national plans to fill gaps that have been identified, and for access to vaccines to be considered as a human right, while preventing the use of vaccine diplomacy. With a common playbook, outbreaks can be prevented from becoming global catastrophes.
FATIMÉ ZARA HAROUN, representative of Super Banats in Chad, told the story of a fatherless 16-year-old girl named Mariam in N’Djamena, Chad who was raped and threatened into silence by her uncle. Overwhelmed by Mariam’s tale and those of thousands of girls who live with the scars of rape without being able to tell their story, she decided to become their spokesperson in 2017. She subsequently founded an association called “Parliament of Young Girl Leaders of Chad”, then joined the Super Banat group, which means “Model Girls” in Chadian Arabic — a platform that allows young girls and adolescents to get involved in their community through activities to promote sexual and reproductive health and prevents violence, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Fighting against rape, violence, child marriage, early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV, she made a plea for support from States, non-governmental organizations and the United Nations system in attaining their rights to health and education.
PAMELA MOLINA, Executive Director of the World Federation of the Deaf, representing the Major Groups and other Stakeholders, noted that COVID-19 regulations have disproportionately impeded persons with disabilities, including those who worked in informal sectors or could not adopt the new working conditions — mainly women, deaf and deaf-blind people, migrants and non-binary persons, people of African Descent and indigenous persons. Data collected in Nigeria revealed that deaf women and girls lack access to vaccines due to the lack of information in their national sign language. Many preferred to get the virus rather than being discriminated against at health-care centres. States should therefore ensure the active involvement of persons with disabilities in designing, implementing and monitoring COVID-19 plans. She called on international donors, policymakers and healthcare planners to include persons with disabilities, sign language users and interpreters in priority groups to receive vaccinations.
KHUMBIZE KANDODO CHIPONDA, Minister for Health of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the Least Developed Countries Group, said Senegal and Rwanda have signed an agreement with German companies for the construction of factories to produce vaccines in Africa. As collective efforts focus on the new Doha Programme of Action, sustainable recovery, access to vaccines and resilience-building in least developed countries must be a priority so that COVID-19 does not lead to a lost decade of development. Least developed countries and the international community must continue its engagement in finding solutions to turn crises into opportunities for transformation.
In the ensuing discussion, participants shared ways in which they have helped advance progress in ensuring equitable access to vaccines and enabling least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and African countries to sustainably recover from the pandemic.
The representative of Eritrea, speaking for the African Group, said that, while the region appreciates measures taken by development partners and international financial institutions aimed at boosting access to COVID-19 vaccines, financing gaps remain. Greater support is needed to ensure that countries can respond to the health crisis and address economic challenges. She called for the sharing of best practices and an accelerated coordinated approach to bolster supply chains.
The representative of Norway noted that more than 80 per cent of COVID‑19 vaccines in low-income countries has come from the Access to COVID‑19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access. As challenges to vaccine access are growing more complex, building capacity at country level is key both for tackling COVID-19, as well as a response to future outbreaks. The Accelerator still has a funding gap of $13 billion, he stressed, calling for continued input from banks to fight COVID‑19 and strengthen health systems.
The representative of Kenya said all countries must invest in resilient health systems and health policies must be redesigned to achieve universal coverage. Science, technology and innovation are key in uncovering solutions to reduce risk and build resilience, he said, calling for strengthened technical and financial support.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as an observer, noted that Africa imports 99 per cent of the vaccines it needs. In the coming months, the European Union and member States of the African Union will bring together African partners and construct factories in Rwanda and Senegal for the manufacture of the mRNA vaccines for Africa. They have also pledged to donate 700 million doses of vaccines of which 472 million have been shared.
The representative of Mongolia, speaking for the Group of 10 Landlocked Developing Countries, said challenges posed by the pandemic are impacting progress in many areas such as gender equality, transport services, and exports. In landlocked developing countries, the number of deaths due to COVID‑19 has more than tripled from April 2021 to April 2022, he said, calling on the international community to increase those countries’ access to vaccines, enhance investments and provide technical assistance.
The representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that, because of the highest prevalence of undernourishment, it is scaling up support for Africa, least developed countries and landlocked developing to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development. As the war in Ukraine presents an additional challenge to food security, FAO has recently launched a call for an improved global financing facility to help countries vulnerable to shocks and stressors to cover the increase in their food import bill in 2022.
The representative of Cameroon, speaking for the NGO Major Group, said his country has developed its national vaccination plan, which provided for a gradual deployment of vaccines. He called on donor agencies and Governments to concentrate support to developing countries, including by supporting health care systems, investing in the management of data collection, and improving digital technology, among others.
The representative of the Asia-Pacific Regional Coordination Mechanism said that, despite multiple vaccine campaigns, vaccine inequity continues. While big pharmaceutical corporations benefitted from the pandemic, the poorest of the world could not access a single dose. Governments and multilateral financial institutions must facilitate the equitable access to vaccines. Moreover, intellectual property rules must be waived to uphold the principle of leaving no one behind.
The representative of Paraguay, associating himself with the Group of 10 Landlocked Developing Countries, said structural limitations and external shocks have delayed the march toward the Sustainable Development Goals in many landlocked developing countries, including his own. Moreover, it has experienced one of the worst droughts in the region, among other challenges. The international community must reinforce coordination and cooperation and prioritize access to vaccines and digital technologies.
Also speaking were representatives of Finland, Denmark, Belgium, France, Ethiopia, Nepal, Spain, Türkiye, China, Portugal and the Russian Federation.
Ms. FATIMA then turned back the floor to the Panellists and Lead Discussants for additional thoughts and responses.
Mr. TESFACHEW highlighted the training schools in Türkiye, as that country prepares to be fully ready for the fourth industrial revolution, and stressed the importance of being creative with new technologies — which is very important for least developed countries.
Mr. FEZOUA noted that the International Finance Corporation is the leading financial development institution in funding the private sector towards local production of vaccines and other pharmaceuticals.
Ms. SINHA called for addressing perceived risks of countries, which can be eliminated by interaction with investment banks. She cited discussions over developing a bankable pipeline, blended funds, gender and COVID bonds, and urged that graduating countries receive support.
Mr. KANADE stressed that vaccine access is undoubtedly a human right but asked who the duty bearers are. While it is considered that the duty to cooperate does not exist under international law, the international community must accept that international cooperation is a duty, he said.
Ms. EZE said a resilient recovery will not be possible without boosting international cooperation on all fronts. Work must be done to mitigate climate-induced disasters, which have been increasing. Further, it is imperative to put food security at core of national recovery efforts.
Ms. MOLINA said reducing global inequalities must start by including marginalized groups, focusing on women, girls and other intersecting identities. Information on vaccines must be communicated by sign language in rural areas. More so, sign language should be incorporated into all meetings on the 2030 Agenda.
Ms. FATIMA said important takeaways included that Goal 9C requires more focus, and the international community must ensure access to vaccines. It is also important to provide access to financing for small- and medium-sized enterprises. The international community is far behind in overcoming the vaccine divide between wealthy and poor countries, which must be at the centre of all recovery efforts. To that end, the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Economic and Social Council will convene a special High-Level dialogue on Africa on 20 July.
Closing the meeting, SUIYA CHINDAWONGSE (Thailand), Vice President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Council should make a special effort for African, least developed and landlocked developing countries. He also said he agreed with Ms. Molina that being inclusive also involves incorporating sign language.
For information media. Not an official record.