Africa, a continent with 54 nations and 17 percent of the global population, and Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and the largest black nation in the world, with over 200 million inhabitants, are currently faced with a shortfall in Covid-19 vaccine dose to attend to her citizens.
Public health experts are worried and concerned that if such insufficiency persists, Africa could be the abode of the Covid-19 pandemic with a high likelihood to breed new Covid-19 variants in the future. With the advent of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, the southern African countries have been shut out of other nations, as a preventive measure to contain its spread. This will have a ripple and damaging effect on the health and economy of an already shackled continent.
A continent projected to have the most death rate from Covid-19 by World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020, because of her unpreparedness, poor health care system, poor sanitation and hygiene, cultural reaction to the existence of Covid-19, one would have thought that there would be global attention to help Africa to address the impact of Covid-19. This in reality has failed to be the case. This is where we are, but what are the ways to avert this looming danger?
As of October 25, 2021, over 6.86 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses have been distributed globally, but have been unequal and unjustly distributed. Africa got only 256 million doses (equivalent to the population of just two African countries, Nigeria and Ethiopia), 3.7 percent of global doses for a continent with 17 percent of the global population, with only 7.95 percent representing those with single doses and 5.23 percent for those fully vaccinated.
While WHO placed a 10 percent vaccination benchmark by September, only 15 African countries have attained that target, while the vaccination rate for the UK, European Union, and United States are 67 percent, 62 percent and 55 percent respectively. In Nigeria, only 3 percent of her population have gotten a single dose, with just 1.7 percent fully vaccinated. The Presidential Steering Committee on Covid-19 has encouraged all Nigerians to get vaccinated, with federal civil servants without proof of vaccination and negative PCR test barred from accessing government buildings. Assuming a quarter of Nigerians were to go for single vaccination at least, are there enough vaccine doses to meet their demands? NO.
COVAX, the mechanism responsible for distribution, purchase and negotiation to Africa is constrained by supply challenges due to the stockpiling of vaccines by high-income nations with stronger purchasing power than the low-income economies. The distribution is not based on needs, infectious rate, population, or impact but on purchasing power. There is a mutual understanding and financial commitment by these high-income countries to the vaccine manufacturers with lucrative prices. The low-income countries lack the financial power to compete and purchase enough vaccines for their citizens.
This sends a simple message that access to vaccines is based on financial affordability and not equity! Budgetary allocation on health and per capita health expenditure for most African nations are very low and inadequate. Nigeria must take the lead as Africans biggest economy and largest country in Africa by population. Investment in health, especially for women, children and the vulnerable must improve. The Covid-19 vaccines should be made available to a good percentage of Nigerians.
There is an urgent need for the vaccine manufacturers to stop the stockpiling for economically viable nations and ensure there is a fair, even, accelerated and faster distribution of these vaccines. The technology, that is, the knowledge and technical know-how, license as pharmaceutical groups have unexplainably not done enough to increase or boost manufacturing of this vaccine, especially in Africa. The vaccine manufacturers and countries with stockpiles of the vaccine should donate to COVAX and support it to give fair access to all countries. NGOs, noblemen and women, African leaders must send a strong word to the manufacturers of these vaccines, G7, G20 to work earnestly to save Africa from this impending danger.
Africa and Africans must learn a lesson from this. Never again must they depend and rely so much on other continents and countries for medical assistance, health emergencies and hope. Health care, research and innovation must be given a top priority. Health personnel, manpower and personal protection equipment, technical know-how, technology, health infrastructure, and funding must be the core objective for African Union and other sub-national institutions in Africa. African leaders must take responsibility and rise up to the occasion to protect the lives of their citizens, while seeking inclusive and internal solutions to these challenges. The world must understand that until everyone is safe from this pandemic, no country or continent is safe. What must be done, has to be done really fast. A vaccine delayed is tantamount to a vaccine denied!
Alikor Victor is health and development economist