Pope Francis calls for shake-up of healthcare in wake of pandemic

CNA 5cf6bae6c57b2 155971 Pope Francis visits the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican, May 27, 2019. | Vatican Media/CNA.

Healthcare must be made more accessible to the poor in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Pope Francis said Wednesday.

The pope proposed Oct. 7 that when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed it should be administered to people regardless of income.

"Healthcare systems ... need to become much more inclusive and accessible to the disadvantaged and those living in low-income countries," he wrote, in a message to members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences attending a three-day plenary meeting at the Vatican.

"If anyone should be given preference, let it be the neediest and most vulnerable among us. Similarly, when vaccines become available, equitable access to them must be ensured regardless of income, always starting with the least."

He added that international bodies such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the Food and Agriculture Organization should be "respected and supported" as they work for "the sake of the universal common good." 

In his message, the pope underlined his appreciation for the pontifical academy, which traces its roots back to the Lincean Academy, one of the world's first exclusively scientific academies, founded in Rome in 1603. 

"In these days, my interest in your work is even keener," he wrote, "because you have devoted this plenary session to what is rightly a topic of profound concern for all humanity. You are focusing on the notion of science at the service of people for the survival of humanity in light of the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 pandemic and other global issues."

He said that, by bringing together experts from different disciplines to reflect on the crisis, the pontifical academy showed "how the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis should be addressed through coordinated efforts in the service of the entire human family."

The pope observed that the pandemic had affected not only health, but also work, education, and spiritual activities.

"In short, being unable to see a person's face and considering other people as potential carriers of the virus is a terrible metaphor of a global social crisis that must be of concern to all who have the future of humanity at heart," he wrote.

He added that the pandemic, combined with global warming and the loss of biodiversity, should encourage humanity "to rethink its course, to repent and to undertake an ecological conversion."

He noted that members of the pontifical academy, who include some of the world's leading scientists, would be discussing scenarios in which the survival of the world's population is threatened. 

"May we remain quiet in the face of such prospects?" he asked. "As great as the responsibility of politicians may be, it does not exempt scientists from acknowledging their own ethical responsibilities in the effort to halt not only the manufacture, possession and use of nuclear weapons, but also the development of biological weapons, with their potential to devastate innocent civilians and indeed, entire peoples."

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