Attention African leaders! Urge G20 to stop COVID-19 vaccine apartheid | Dailytrust

Attention African leaders! Urge G20 to stop COVID-19 vaccine apartheid

COVID-19 has shown flaws in the world’s ability to respond to infectious diseases outbreaks, with none more evident than wealthy countries’ self-destructive unwillingness to cooperate on vaccine equity for the benefit of the entire global population.

Since the world’s wealthiest countries have been the primary contributors to the great disparity between the vaccine haves and have-nots, it is time that African leaders push G20 heads of state to address and rectify the life-threatening vaccine imbalance at their upcoming summit in Rome, Italy, at the end of October.

As of early October, 2021, 3.6 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered globally, with 78 per cent of it going to people in high and upper-middle-income countries. Meanwhile just less than seven per cent of the 1.3 billion people on the African continent have received the first dose. The discrepancy is worse for people in low-income countries where less than one per cent have gotten a shot.

It is no surprise that there are not enough doses to vaccinate our world when wealthy countries have secured enough vaccines to inoculate their populations as much as five times over, according to Duke University. Even though the world will have created 11 billion total doses by the end of this year, almost 9.9 billion of those have already been promised to wealthy nations.

The Covax initiative, while promising, was supposed to supply lower-income countries with sufficient vaccine doses. However, that mechanism clearly has fallen short of its initial goal to vaccinate 20 per cent  of recipient countries, which is still far too little when the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that a vaccination rate of 70 per cent is required to protect the world. 

A debate in the US and other high-income countries now centres on booster shots, while Africa and other hard-hit regions struggle. 

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently said it was “unconscionable” that some countries were now offering booster shots “while so many people remain unprotected.” 

Therefore, time has come for African leaders to amplify their voices in a combined effort to demand that G20 leaders prioritise global vaccine access for the majority of nations that desperately want to vaccinate their populations. 

That must start with pushing pharmaceutical companies to share their know-how and technologies to increase production in Africa. Africa can no longer wait for vaccine charity. It is time to get rid of patent monopolies for successful vaccines against the COVID-19, a development which was supported by $100 billion in public funding from taxpayers in the US, Germany and other countries. 

According to Action Aid,  Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer are reaping astronomical and unconscionable profits due to their monopolies of mRNA COVID vaccines, with the three corporations having earned more than $26 billion in revenue in the first half of the year. 

Further steps that leaders of the wealthiest economies must take are raising at least $100 billion, enough to vaccinate our world, committing to international cooperation as the most fundamental way to address pandemics, and drafting a new Global Public Health Convention to serve as the worldwide health governance system to rapidly respond to future outbreaks. 

The global COVID-19 response has been abysmal since the start, but African leaders have the opportunity to rally together and speak as a united force for the good of all Africans and the world. If one nation is under threat from COVID-19 with no access to vaccines, all nations are in danger. The G20 leaders must acknowledge that reality and act accordingly.

Dr Penninah Lutung is the Bureau Chief, Africa – AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF)

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