Cardinal Turkson to Davos Forum: Human Dignity Must Not Be Compromised

According to the World Economic Forum, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people below the poverty line in relatively wealthy countries and will push up to 150 million people in developing countries into extreme poverty in 2021.

A screenshot of Cardinal Peter Turkson addressing a virtual summit organized by the World Economic Forum Jan. 28, 2021.
A screenshot of Cardinal Peter Turkson addressing a virtual summit organized by the World Economic Forum Jan. 28, 2021. (photo: Screenshot / World Economic Forum)

VATICAN CITY — Cardinal Peter Turkson told a virtual summit organized by the World Economic Forum on Thursday that the human person must be at the center of efforts to counter the coronavirus pandemic.

“The dignity of the human person is the one thing that you cannot compromise on,” Cardinal Turkson said in a virtual panel on poverty alleviation at “The Davos Agenda” summit on Jan. 28.

The prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Human Development said that concerns about “profit, financial gains, economics … tend to push the person into the background.”

According to the World Economic Forum, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people below the poverty line in relatively wealthy countries and will push up to 150 million people in developing countries into extreme poverty in 2021.

“The Davos Agenda” summit taking place online on Jan. 25-29 aims to help leaders around the world “choose innovative solutions to stem the pandemic and drive a robust recovery over the next year.”

The cardinal spoke in a session entitled “Stopping Poverty from Going Viral,” along with a professor of economics, former executive director at Goldman Sachs, and chief editor of the UN World Investment Report.

Cardinal Turkson shared how the Vatican commission on COVID-19 has worked to connect with people on the ground in different countries to evaluate and promote access to healthcare, job security, access to food, and, in particular, fair access to the coronavirus vaccine. 

One idea he presented was the local production of vaccines made possible by a suspension of intellectual property rights related to the vaccine by the World Trade Organization.

“Several countries do have the facilities. They do have pharmaceutical [infrastructure] to be able to produce this, and if this was done locally I think that the impact of the coronavirus will be very much tamed or diminished,” he said. 

The Vatican commission on COVID-19, which Cardinal Turkson heads, has advocated for coronavirus vaccines to be made available to all, especially the most vulnerable, as “a matter of justice.” 

The commission is working to complete an ethical-scientific evaluation of vaccine quality, methodology, and pricing, and to “lead by example” in the equitable distribution of the vaccine and other treatments.

Cardinal Turkson told the Davos forum: “The human person is central to all of this, not simply as the beneficiary, but is also the crucial actor. He must change his lifestyle, he must change his way of thinking, and develop a heart for the other person to be able to feel for the well-being of the other.”

“If that does not happen, we may have all of the structures that we want … but if the one at the wheel, at the helm of things, does not change attitude, morality, ethical considerations, and all of that, not much will change.”

The Vatican prefect said that when Ban Ki-moon, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, presented the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, he described them as “a human dignity narrative that leaves nobody behind.”

“And, if we are true to this objective then everything we do in this regard should be to enhance the dignity of every human life and not leave anybody behind,” Cardinal Turkson said.

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