ACR CONVERGENCE 2021—On Nov. 3, the inaugural, virtual Global Rheumatology Summit brought together specialists from all over the world to share critical expertise on global health issues related to rheumatology. The summit, the first major event developed by the ACR’s Global Engagement Special Committee, emphasized the importance of collaboration and innovative solutions in fighting for equity in rheumatologic care worldwide.
The summit opened with a stirring keynote speech by Ayoade Alakija, MD, co-chair of the African Union’s Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance, former chief humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria, founder of the Emergency Coordination Center in Nigeria and a special advisor to the G20. She spoke movingly about how we must bridge divides and foster dialogue to help achieve worldwide health equity.
Dr. Alakija underscored inequities in global care that have been highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also drew parallels to similar issues in rheumatologic care worldwide, because the same regions are those most profoundly challenged in terms of adequate access to treatment for rheumatic diseases.
Noting that different manifestations of health inequity are deeply connected, she asserted that we must achieve greater equity with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic before we can make improvements in equitable rheumatologic care worldwide. Arguing that the current global health infrastructure is broken, she urged listeners to engage more in the broader geopolitical environment.
COVID-19 Global Inequities
Dr. Alakija laid out some of the glaring inequities between the way COVID-19 has affected lower income areas, such as Africa, and areas with greater resources.
One important difference has been the lack of testing for COVID-19 available in poorer regions. She pointed out that in Nigeria, with a population of 200 million people, roughly 2.5 million tests have been performed. “Testing is for the elite, and testing is only done when people have to travel,” says Dr. Alakija. In contrast, roughly two tests have been performed for every member of the U.S. population.
Treatment availability is another stark area of contrast. In much of Africa, treatment for COVID-19 is extremely limited. “Many people are dying for lack of a breath,” Dr. Alakija said. “Surely it proves that the very essence of what we do is broken when we cannot get the basics of oxygen in Africa, yet people are popping into clinics for monoclonal antibody shots in the U.S.”
Dr. Alakija also spoke forcefully about the lack of vaccine availability in low-income areas of the world. “As the world has rolled out these vaccines, underlying inequities are being exacerbated and exemplified by the haves and have-nots, leading to a world where continents like Africa will be left behind,” she said.