President Rodrigo Duterte spoke before the United Nations General Assembly for the first time on Wednesday and called on world leaders to ensure equal access to a COVID-19 vaccine for all countries rich or poor.
Fighting an "invisible enemy," Duterte said the COVID-19 pandemic will be the UN's "biggest test since World War II." It will force member countries to "ask hard and fundamental questions" about the world body's role.
"We are at a crossroads. How we address COVID-19 will define our future. For the Philippines, this means putting up all of the peoples of our United Nations at the core of this response," he said.
Access to a COVID-19 vaccine is in the interest of the "global public good," he said. "When the world finds that vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld. It should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy."
There must be "coordinated international plans and efforts to pursue a common purpose. COVID-19 knows no border. It knows no nationality. It knows no race. It knows no gender."
The Philippines is set to begin Phase 3 human trials on several vaccine candidates in October, eyeing commercial availability as early as the middle of next year. Duterte had said that the poorest of the poor will get it first and for free.
As superpowers Washington, Beijing and Moscow race other developed countries to bring the first commercial vaccine to market, several analysts have warned that rich countries could get it first, putting developed countries at a disadvantage.
Duterte paid tribute to health frontliners who "selflessly answered the call and to combat the COVID pandemic despite its virulence and unknown characteristic," he said.
The Philippines' labor disapora has been led for years by doctors and nurses, many of whom serve on the frontlines in the U.S. and Europe.