She had dreamed about it for months, and finally Susheela Moonsamy was able to do it – she reunited with her family members and gave them a big hug. Since the beginning of the pandemic, he had only been able to see his brothers and nephews with social distance and masks in between. But a few weeks ago, as his state, California, continued with its effective vaccination campaign, the family was able to have a real encounter.
“It was such an exciting experience that we all hugged each other and, with tears in our eyes, thanked God for being with us and giving us the opportunity to see each other up close again and to have physical contact,” he says. “Before, we didn’t value a hug from a relative so much.”
A couple of weeks later, the high school counselor left her home in Oakland for a family trip to Disneyland, outside Los Angeles. She felt it “strange … but wonderful”, after a year in seclusion with her elderly parents. While on vacation, she and her family received sad news: One of Moonsamy’s cousins, the daughter of her father’s sister, had died of COVID-19.
It was not a relative in California, where Moonsamy has lived for 35 years, but in South Africa, the country where she was born and that her parents abandoned during the apartheid. There, a virulent third wave of COVID-19 it whips the population. Less than 6% of the population have received one dose and less than 1% have received both.
The virus has claimed the lives of 13 friends and family of Moonsamy, and she feels that each day could bring more bad news. While in California – where more than half the population has completed their vaccination schedule – there is talk that the pandemic is nearing its end, Moonsamy has mixed feelings.
“It’s certainly exciting. But at the same time, you think about those who have left, and you think… If only they had made it to this point and celebrate with us. That would have been wonderful. We need to remember them… and look forward. Celebrate freedom but, at the same time, keep in mind those who have left. ”
Moonsamy is far from the only person with conflicting feelings about the relaxation of restraints. Along the Europe In the United States, mass vaccination programs are expected to bring a certain normality in the coming months. The UK plans to lift the restrictions on July 19, the so-called “Freedom Day” according to British tabloids. In the United States, most states have already lifted the restrictions. The countries of the European Union, to a greater or lesser extent, are preparing for the summer reopens.
But in much of the rest of the world – from Kampala to Cape Town, from the Philippines to Peru – the pandemic is not only continuing, it is getting worse. In low-income countries, an average of only 1% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Caught in the middle of this growing divide are millions of people with relatives in developing countries, who find themselves surprised by the staggering global inequality in their daily family gatherings via WhatsApp groups and Skype chats.
These huge differences have long been a part of the diaspora experience, but the pandemic has magnified them. For many, the different speeds of vaccination campaigns represent everything that one part of the family has and the other does not.
Worry, helplessness and sadness
“I feel a great guilt … and a lot of sadness,” says Isabella (not her real name), a Colombian-born law student who has lived in Canada since she was four years old.
“You know why the world is the way it is? Why do you have to leave your home country to be safe, to be healthy? Why couldn’t we have stayed home and had the same experience as Canada?” .
Like much of South America, Colombia is going through a third wave of COVID-19. 45,000 people have died since mid-March, representing more than 40% of all deaths caused by the pandemic. About 24% of the population have received their first dose. In Canada, that figure reaches 69%.
Isabella, 23, is fully vaccinated. Receiving her first dose last month was an emotional experience. “I felt happy, but I also remember wanting to cry while sitting in the chair, because when I looked around it was incredible to see how well organized the vaccination program was, but I also knew that in Colombia it is not like that and that It would take at least a year for my cousin of the same age, who lives in Colombia, to be sitting in a similar chair. And who knows what might happen until then? ”
Farouk Triki, 30, is an engineer from software Tunisian living in Paris. He left his parents and siblings to move to France with his wife four years ago. Unlike his family in his homeland, he has already received the vaccine. For those who live in Tunisia, the campaign has been torturously slow: only 5% of its population has both doses.
Last month, while the infections reached their historical record, the first cases of the delta variant among the Tunisian population, who have had the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in Africa.
“I’m worried and scared,” says Triki, “because I’ve heard it’s even worse than the British variant,” contracted by her family in March. His parents, Farouk and Hanen, are teachers in Sfax, a city on the Mediterranean coast. Both emerged unscathed from the disease and did not require hospital treatment, but Hanen sadly recalls the time she was ill: “Many family and friends died from COVID-19,” she says.
For Isabella, who could only see from afar how COVID-19 was wreaking havoc, first among her mother’s family and then last month among her father’s, the predominant feeling is powerlessness. “I think that’s the worst, the feeling of not being able to do anything. We try to help our family financially, sending them money if they need it, but more than that … That’s all we can do from here.”
Help from abroad
Other people living in a similar situation have tried to organize together with members of their community to send money to their home countries. Raj Ojha, a Nepalese mortgage broker living in Slough, southern England, has raised £ 2,000 through his organization, the Nepalese British Community UK group. The money will go to two local charities helping those hardest hit by the pandemic in the tiny Himalayan country.
“We are here in the UK and we cannot go back to Nepal. All we can do is give a hand to the organizations that work tirelessly there,” he says.
Ojha, now in her 40s, is fully vaccinated, while her 62-year-old older sister told her last month that she had been denied the first dose.
“That’s the difference. She told me they took her away from people, telling her ‘you’re not 65 yet, you can’t get vaccinated yet’. And she suffers from diabetes and other diseases.” Ojha has relatives in Kathmandu and eastern Nepal, and none of them have been fully vaccinated. Less than 3% of the population of that country has received both doses.
“It is a global problem”
Earlier this year, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that the world was “on the brink of catastrophic moral failure” if more vaccines were not available for developing countries. But such efforts have stopped. The COVAX mechanism, designed to deliver more accessible doses and promote equitable access in vaccines, has been accused of aiming too low after its main supplier, the Serum Institute in India, announced that it would dedicate its vaccine production to home use.
Until now, COVAX has only distributed 95 million of the 2,000 million vaccines promised for this year. Supplies are not the only problem: in many low- and middle-income countries, the logistics of mass vaccination campaigns place a huge burden on fragile health systems.
Moonsamy, Ojha and Isabella agree that there is an ethical imperative for rich countries to help those with fewer resources. This is not mere altruism: it is the most sensible thing to do.
“Now that developed countries are moving towards having their populations fully vaccinated, great efforts must be made to get vaccines for developing countries. If it is not by doing something good for others, then at least it is to protect the rest of the world. of the appearance of new variants “, says Isabella.
Moonsamy agrees. “This is a global problem that affects us all. By helping others, we are actually helping ourselves.” Last weekend, Moonsamy hosted a 4th of July celebration attended by his Californians. They laughed, ate, and talked. They also prayed for his family in South Africa. “His situation breaks our hearts,” he says.
“As much as we enjoy this incredible freedom after being locked up for the last year, we will not truly be free until we all are. So we will continue to do our part, helping others so that one day we can all celebrate freedom together.” .
Translation of Julián Cnochaert