Opinion: With COVID-19, imperialism isn’t a thing of the past


Credit: Genevieve Morrison

WSPN’s Reva Datar describes the current state of the pandemic in the west compared to other parts of the world, and how imperialism has contributed to these circumstances.

Reva Datar

We’ve all had someone we know say, “I got my booster shot today,” relishing in their added immunity to COVID-19. We can easily make appointments at local pharmacies and vaccination centers to get our shot. Vaccination rates in the country are high. In fact, in Massachusetts at least 81.1% of individuals 18-64 are fully vaccinated. However, this is not the same for people in countries in Africa. Zimbabwe has administered the second shot of the vaccine to about 2.2 million people, a seventh of their population. In South Africa, just 31.9% of people have gotten their first dose.

The reason for the lower vaccination rates in these countries come from multiple reasons, all stemming from the same thing of the past: imperialism. Through the past several centuries, the land in Africa was seen by colonizers as a source of strength. This only strengthened and advanced the western world, and it weakened the countries that were imperialized. Developing countries today are thought of as less capable, inferior and in need of western help, when really, western countries are only affluent because of the wealth they drained from these developing countries.

This tense and unjust history between the imperialist and imperialized influences how the economies of these countries function to this day, and the pandemic has exacerbated the discrepancies caused between western and developing countries. Centuries of neglect and exploitation have led those living in countries in Asia and Africa to lose their trust in western nations, and rightly so. People in these developing countries find it hard to believe that western nations want to “help” them since their past actions always had an ulterior motive. Imperialism was driven by political pride and the hunger for more wealth, at the expense of Asian and African lives.

The Africa Center of Disease Control held a survey across 15 countries in Africa and found that over 40% of the people polled believed that Africans were used as guinea pigs for vaccine trials, and these beliefs aren’t baseless, either. Doctors from western countries brought up the prospect of testing the COVID-19 vaccine on Africans since those countries have had a harder time combating the virus, due to lack of supplies. In fact, Pfizer, an American based pharmaceutical company, conducted a clinical trial for one meningitis drug in Nigeria that resulted in several deformities and deaths. This trial was conducted without legal consent forms, but Pfizer claims that local nurses explained the risks to families. The continuation of western institutions going into African countries with the mindset that African people are simply disposable shows that the western superiority complex still exists.

International response to certain viruses is driven by the prioritization of some people over others. For example, many countries have invested money and resources to combat the virus due to its large impact on western countries, as well as the world at large. Conversely, little has been done to combat viruses like malaria, compared to COVID-19, even though millions die from it. In fact, malaria has gotten considerably worse. According to a study done by the WHO, cases of malaria were 241 million in 2020, which was 14 million cases more than 2019. However, this has received little attention. Where is the urgency when others are struggling?

On the surface, pharmaceutical companies can be seen as the good guys, but they’re far from it. Conducting trials for their drugs in western countries is hard because of all the regulations, but in African countries, they can easily bribe members of the African governments and do as they please without official consent. They then continue to develop their drugs and resell them back to Africa at high prices, which African countries purchase since their people are dying.

Not only is this an effect of imperialism, but it’s imperialism happening right now. The west still isn’t as pure as it paints itself to be because they are still drawn to anything they can make profitable, no matter the cost.

This isn’t saying that the vaccine itself is bad. The vaccine is extremely vital to combating the pandemic, which makes it more important that those in all countries have access to it. However, we can’t justify regarding one group of people as disposable. So, the next time you see a statistic saying that the vaccination rates in western countries are higher than the rates of those in African countries, remember how the west made it that way.