Dr Fawzia Hardy: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 February 2021:
The Covid-19 infection has been around for just over a year now, but it is still wreaking havoc around the world. This pandemic has killed over 2 million people and no country has been spared.
The United States which is regarded as the world’s greatest democracy is struggling to cope with the illness and deaths that the disease is causing. The Spanish flu which caused a similar pandemic 120 years ago killed 5 million people.
Since then, with numerous advances in technology and in medicine, one would not expect such viruses to emerge.
As a result of severe illness, despair and death wrecking nations, vaccines have been developed as the best way to protect against severe illness from the coronavirus. There are various vaccines currently available produced by different countries. There is Pfizer BioNTech vaccine which is produced by US and Germany, Oxford AstraZeneca produced by UK and Sweden, Moderna produced in the US. Others are Sputnik V produced by Russia, Covishield produced by India, Sinopharm produced by China, and the USA’s Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen vaccine made in Belgium.
Countries around the world have acquired the vaccines and have started vaccinating their citizens. But what about Africa? Are citizens being vaccinated on the African continent?
Africans are dying of the coronavirus but not on a scale seen in Europe. However, one may argue that is untrue, as there is massive underreporting in Africa.
Many people in many African countries fall ill, never attend a doctor and die at home, without ever being tested for the virus. They are buried with no post-mortem being performed.
Availability of kits for mass testing of populations in Africa is also a problem. There is almost no social distancing, and many do not wear masks.
Africa has recorded its total number of cases at 3.8 million. South Africa has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus at 49,000, followed by Egypt at 10,000. Morocco has reported 8,500 deaths and Tunisia 7,800. With most countries in Africa there has been a gap in data reporting. This compares to half a million deaths in the USA and almost 120,000 in the UK.
However, despite these deaths occurring in Africa, it seems the vaccines are not reaching these communities. The WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Gbereyesus said in January 2021, that most of the world’s supplies of vaccines have been hoovered up by developed countries and hardly any left for the developing world. Canada for example, has ordered enough doses to vaccinate its population five times over, but the whole of Africa has enough to vaccinate only 38% of its population. Africa will need to vaccinate at least 60% of its population to eradicate the pandemic.
COVAX Alliance was therefore set up to ensure that developing countries benefitted from these vaccines. It is meant to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as diagnostics and treatments, and guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to them for people in all countries.
The Covax scheme is aiming to get at least 1.3 billion vaccine doses to vulnerable populations worldwide. However, progress has been very slow and disappointing.
Last week, the new head of the World Trade Organization – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that it is “in the interest” of wealthy countries that all nations access vaccines.
Wealthy countries are facing growing pressure to make sure lower-income nations get fair access to vaccines. She said that the UK should donate vaccines to developing countries now rather than wait until it has a surplus.
President Joe Biden has pledged $4 billion in US aid to the Covax fund and the EU has pledged €1 billion. Germany pledged an additional $1.2 billion and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK would donate most of its surplus supplyto poorer nations.
So, with all these pledges, have the vaccines reached Africa?
It is thought that the COVAX vaccines should reach Africa by early April. Some countries have managed to secure vaccines for their most vulnerable citizens either by direct purchase from the manufacturer or donations.
Zimbabwe has started its rollout of the vaccine with donations from China. South Africa has started vaccinating with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which has been found to be effective against the South African variant of the virus. Seychelles with Sinopharm and AstraZeneca and Rwanda has acquired Pfizer and Moderna, Mauritius has AstraZeneca, Morocco has AstraZeneca and Sinopharm and Algeria has started vaccinating with the Russian Sputnik V.
Other African natioins such as Senegal and Equatorial Guinea have had their first deliveries – of Sinopharm – but have yet to begin giving it to their citizens. It is expected that Ghana should receive its vaccines by June 2021.
Africa faces a race to vaccinate most of its citizens, in a world where the competition for vaccines is fierce, and every continent is jostling in the fight to acquire as many as it can.
But, as the Mo Ibrahim Foundation said in a statement last week: “The Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF) is deeply concerned about the lack of vaccines available for African countries. Nobody will be protected against COVID-19, until everybody is. There will be no economic or social recovery, unless we prioritise an equal global health recovery. It is a matter of shared interest, not of charity. Therefore, MIF commends the strong statement recently issued by President Emmanuel Macron calling for, on top of immediate sharing of available supplies, cost transparency and technology transfer to accelerate the global production of vaccines. This crisis is far from over, and we will have to fight against further pandemics. Emergency packages are helpful, but far from ensuring sustained security. We now look to G7 Leaders to make strong commitments to collectively engage in this global battle.”
Well back to square one- cap in hand begging. We are alwyas begging the West for almost everything, even our own basic needs. The last time some money was dished out to the Sierra Leone Covid commission, what did it do – they bought 4×4 jeeps and other comforts for its members. Our government went on a buying spree for its ministers with no consideration for forward planning. You see why sub-Saharan Africans will remain not only stooges to the west, but slaves. Almost no African country made plans for vaccines, or for that matter any other eventuality in the covid dilemma. Rather, the leaders were always busy planning to buy unnecessary comforts (fleets of SUVs) for their offices. A continent where even the least manager is ordained with official vehicle and driver, is doomed.
No one is safe until everyone is safe from this pandemic. Rich countries, or advanced economies whilst they celebrate their efforts in trying to inoculate their whole populations by the end of this year or early next year. It is true developing countries like ours cannot say the same, despite with a tiny population, which is more like New York city or London’s populations. Sharing the vaccine and helping boost the immunisation of populations across the world, will go a long way to guarantee the safty of everyone. The world is a small village. Once again Africa has been treated unfairly, by pharmaceutical companies, that were accused of charging over the odds for the vaccine to African governments. The same Covid19 vaccine, outrageous charges do not apply to their western counterparts.
Maybe, if Nigeria, with the largest black population in the world and South Africa the second largest economy in the continent, should be given the go-ahead to manufacture this vaccine. It will reduce delays and enhance delivery capacity rigth across continent. Collaboration with India, which is one of the largest manufacturers of this vaccine, will help reduce the waiting time, thereby accelerating delivery of the vaccine in our vast continent. Right now, what we are witnessing, some rich countries are using the vaccine delivery, like a political football, and playing God with the lives of millions of people. African governments, working within the framework of the AU, should pool together their resources, to acquire the vaccine.
One country alone will not able to do it because of the porous land borders. Sierra Leone, can immunise its population and take comfort to say we are free from the virus. Because, if Liberia and Guinea are yet to immunise their populations, then our country has nothing to celebrate or feel secure from the virus. In certain ways, it is good our continent did not suffer Covid19 deaths like some of our Western counterparts. Otherwise, we will be out on a limb.
Please be cautious. If these different vaccines would be safe and proven I would demand strongly that all people should get it without exception. But up to now, these vaccines have a lot of side-effects (in Europe you will find a lot of critical voices from doctors and virologists – not in the mainstream media) and none of these vaccine companies have experiences of the long term damages. I shall refuse this vaccination.
Kudos to Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a wonderful daughter of Africa, for putting her beloved continent’s case so authoritatively and indeed so pellucidly.
Edward – what is your point? The author is correct and there is nothing there to correct about the relationship between Johnson and Johnson and Janssen as expressed by the author. The fact is that Janssen Pharmaceuticals is a company owned by Johnson and Johnson and they are based in Beerse, Belgium. So the author is correct!
Dr. Fawiza Hardy, I enjoy reading the article you wrote, the behavior of these western world is bizarre and unthinkable, especially UK. This is a close call for the third world countries to try to consider self initiative, especially Africa, Unification by using different approaches; by uniting all Women of Africa and backed by all Men of Africa. Women will establish a temporary SEAT Of Government somewhere in Africa headed by Women and backed by the men and ruling at least for two terms (10 years) of five years’ term; and or 8 years of four years’ term. By the guide/grace of the Supernatural Being intervention, we will succeed.
Johnson and Johnson is a conglomerate based in Racin WI, USA. It is different from Janssen Pharmaceutical. Indeed Johnson and Johnson is the third vaccine from the USA. Just a small correction to a great article.
A very good article: informative and perhaps revelatory about Sierra Leone’s and indeed Africa’s predicament in the face of a pandemic to combat which the vaccines needed are as yet so hard to come by. Scientific and technological retardation and the lack of resources needed to ensure the acquisition and delivery of adequate public health provisions are there for all to see. Why? Well, our leaders, to speak only of Sierra Leone, are busy lining their pockets in a frenzied and unholy race to see who gets rich first, who travels abroad more, who owns the largest rice farms, who drives the most expensive cars, whose bellies bloat and protrude fastest and farthest, who….
In the meantime and thanks to our Minister-in-Chief (-in-Thieving, if you say so), and our Lady the First, public revenue is spent as quickly as it gets into the consolidated fund, from where it evaporates just as quickly to condense permanently in what can only be private home and overseas bank accounts of government officials and their loved ones; officials who are accountable to only themselves while holding their political opponents to account publicly, in a unidirectional anti-corruption move, perhaps best called a charade.
Have a thought whosoever you are and wheresoever you may be, and indeed shed a tear for the ordinary man and woman of Freetown, Bo, Kenema and Makeni and of the smaller towns and villages without count, all vulnerable and having nowhere to go as the invisible viral disease marches on, with its no less terrifying older sibling not wanting to be outdone raising its ugly head from across the border, threatening to invade once again. Only Allah in his infinite capacity for pity and mercy can protect these hapless souls from a ferocious three-prung assault led by a corrupt and unfeeling government, aided by its fellow agents of unfathomable lethality: Covid-19 and Ebola.