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Brazil needs vaccines now - a call from the Amazon

As President Biden prepares to meet President Bolsonaro for the first time at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate scheduled for April 22nd, the coronavirus pandemic is devastating the Amazon and its communities.
20 Abr 2021 – 10:59 AM EDT
In January, healthcare worker Vanda Ortega, from the Witoto Indigenous group and dressed in traditional clothing, was the first woman to receive the Covid-19 vaccine produced by China's Sinovac Biotech Ltd, during the start of the vaccination program in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil. Crédito: Edmar Barros/AP

As President Biden prepares to meet President Bolsonaro for the first time at the Leaders’ Summit on Climate scheduled for April 22nd, the coronavirus pandemic is devastating the Amazon and its communities. At least 49,000 have died in the states spanning the Amazon region.

This leaves the international community in a difficult position. Potential options are fraught with risk. Not taking action entails immense human suffering of Brazilians and allows new coronavirus variants to emerge whilst also impacting climate change and the natural environment. Equally, Bolsonaro appears determined to use international pressure to bolster his domestic political image as a defender of national interests, instrumentalizing the idea of sovereignty.

An alternative line of action is viable and necessary. It involves building direct ties with a new generation of leaders that have strived over the past two years to stop, or at least mitigate, the devastating impact of the federal government’s measures and omissions. Without the leadership of governors, our population would have been facing an even greater disaster during the pandemic. The United States has the opportunity to make a significant impact by engaging directly with the Consortium for Sustainable Development of Legal Amazon, an interstate organization formed by the nine governors the states in the Brazilian Amazon.

Too often, the Amazon is presented as a global cause – a region destined to be saved by international actors. Now the world needs to put that solidarity into practice and provide the means for the region to overcome the pandemic. A few more months without meaningful help and the Amazon will have lost the fight against the pandemic – with all the potential global consequences of new variants that it is likely to bring. When we refer to the fight against the pandemic, we also think of the social aspects involved, as the Amazon suffers immensely from regional and economic inequalities. We, the governors of the Amazon, have taken special pains over the past year, but we need more partnership to be able to care and provide climate and sanitary security for the planet.

Today, we, the Consortium for Sustainable Development of Legal Amazon, are calling on the Biden administration to engage with us. Thousands of Brazilians die asphyxiated every day. Many others are strapped to their beds because desperate doctors do not have the medication to keep them sedated.

Naturally, the Biden Administration is focused on vaccinating its citizens. We admire this determination in the fight against the pandemic. But we cannot wait, nor can the world risk the emergence of further, more harmful, variants.

We are calling for the US to send vaccine supplies to the Amazon governors as we can then distribute them nationally to all Brazilians via the National Health System (Sistema Único de Saúde). The donation could come within the framework of a transnational climate cooperation program that governors would endorse and immediately implement.

The Governors provide a more reliable and stable pathway for a partnership. We never denied or sabotaged international cooperation. On the contrary, we have been continuously and decisively engaged in international organizations and negotiations. For example, we attended the Amazonian Synod called by Pope Francis we called for the resuming of the Amazon Fund – with investments from several European countries-and we also participated in international forums, such as the COP 25 held in Madrid in 2019.

Increased collaboration for vaccines would have a transformative impact in the short-term, as these supplies would be used until institutions based in Brazil, such as Butantan Institute and Fiocruz, can expand their production in the second half of 2021.

Undoubtedly, this path involves considerable risks. Some extremists could portray such legitimate cooperation as a foreign intervention, and we governors will be attacked in Brazil’s endless networks of fake news. But such attacks pale into insignificance when compared to watching our citizens suffer at their homes and hospitals.

The Brazilian constitution establishes that our international relations should be guided by the principles of human rights and cooperation between peoples for the progress of humanity. This is what inspires us in this quest for the expansion of the partnership between the United States and the Amazon, so that we can build a stronger commitment and more efficiency toward the protection of the environment and health in this special and relevant part of the planet.

(Flávio Dino is President of the Interstate Consortium for Sustainable Development of Legal Amazon)

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