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.
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.”