CAIRO – A stark contradiction lies at the heart of Africa’s response to Covid-19. The continent consumes a quarter of the world’s vaccines across all diseases and given this level of consumption, one would expect African nations to be well experienced at producing, procuring and delivering them to their people.
By Benedict Oramah
Yet, over a year and a half from the start of the pandemic, less than two per cent of Africans have been given a single shot.
As the lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines roll out in other parts of the globe, African governments have been left ruing the injustice of vaccine nationalism.
Rue they may, but with 99 per cent of vaccines imported from outside the continent, Africans have been left with few levers with which to push back against export restrictions and disrupted supply chains.
Even with financing available, vaccine deliveries have remained unpredictable and it could take years to reach desired immunisation levels.
Commitments from the European Union to support vaccination hubs is a welcome example of long-term support for Africa’s vaccine challenge. However, these initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to preparing the continent for the next pandemic.
That other policies such as patent waivers on Covid-19 vaccines remain tied up in international negotiations shows once again that global solidarity only stretches so far.
For Africa to avoid a repeat of the debacle thrust upon it by the Covid-19 pandemic in the future, it must learn to stand on its own. This by no means implies isolation but rather independence in areas critical to the wellbeing of its people and the resilience of its economy.
The key lesson from the pandemic is that African nations must come to rely less on others and more on fellow Africans.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us that when the chips are down, it is everyone for him or herself. Health security is an inalienable right, but you must give it to yourself!
Joint struggle has awakened the continent to its collective strength. African responses to Covid-19 have been most effective when African nations have stood together.
The African Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP), for example, has pooled procurement of medical supplies, enabling Africa to negotiate as a continent rather than 55 fragmented nations.
This approach has helped achieve discounts on supplies, enhanced market power and facilitated equitable distribution to all nations, big and small.
The Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (Avatt), backed by $2 billion of financing from Afreximbank and coordinated jointly with the African Union’s Africa Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) and Mr Strive Masiyiwa, the AU Special Envoy on the Covid-19, has applied a similar approach to vaccine procurement.
By banding together, African nations have been able to negotiate directly with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers rather than relying solely on foreign aid.
The initiative has, for example, secured 400 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine which will, importantly, be manufactured partly on African soil.
The escalating effort to tackle the pandemic calls for national leaders to double down on this whole of Africa approach. This will see the continent’s development finance institutions pooling resources to resolve Africa’s problems, thereby ensuring respect and dignity to the Africans.
Moreover, African nations should work together to ensure that the $400 billion in Africa’s foreign exchange reserves domiciled outside the continent work for Africa, especially as the continent begins its post-pandemic recovery.
Coordination must not cease with the pandemic. Learnings from AMSP and Avatt are being channelled into an African Vaccine Trust to pool procurement of medical resources on a continuous basis. This will offer long-term demand certainty and build a resilient system for the next pandemic.
This will naturally lead African nations to synchronise investments in medical infrastructure.
The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) provides an unprecedented opportunity to expand the pharmaceutical industry by enabling developers and manufacturers to trade across a unified market.
This opportunity is particularly compelling given McKinsey’s projections that the African market for vaccines could rise from $1.3 billion today to between $2.3 billion and $5.4 billion by 2030.
In addition, the public procurement for vaccines and therapeutics managed by international agencies must be used as catalysts for demand-driven creation of pharma manufacture capacities on the continent.
There is no reason these agencies cannot deliberately aim to purchase significant quantities of pharmaceuticals to supply to Africa from within the continent. That is the kind of “aid” that is sustainable.
African leaders must shift from national to regional thinking to leverage the AfCFTA opportunity. This envisages creating vaccine hubs with access to cross-border markets to ensure manufacturers reach sufficient economies of scale; combined with deploying policies so that different stages of vaccine development can be efficiently carried out and connected across regions.
A renewed effort to align regulations for medical supplies, with support directed to initiatives such as the African Vaccine Regulatory Forum, the African Medicines Agency (AMA), and others, should underpin these investments.
There is a strong chance the Covid-19 pandemic will not be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Africa risks being sidelined again unless we learn to stand united.
By coordinating efforts, African nations can secure resilience for the future, protect the welfare of their citizens and retain the many skilled individuals who currently leave the continent to take medical and pharmaceutical jobs abroad.
As Dr Kwame Nkrumah put it, Africa must be “united in our common desire to move forward together in dealing with all the problems that can best be solved only on a continental basis”.
Benedict Oramah is the President/Chairman of the African Export-Import Bank
[Source: Nation.Africa – August 15, 2021]