KENYA – Amref Health Africa has launched a global campaign to end COVID-19 vaccine injustice dubbed #EndVaccineInjusticeInAfrica.
The initiative is calling on world leaders to honor their commitments to low- and middle-income countries to leave no-one behind in the race to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, by mobilizing more vaccines for the continent.
Africa lags far behind the rest of the world in COVID-19 testing, vaccination and therapeutics. Nearly two years into the pandemic and over 10 months since the first COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in wealthy countries.
However, African countries still do not have access to adequate vaccines for their combined population of approximately 1.4 billion (17% of the global population), even as wealthier nations stockpile critical vaccine doses and begin administering booster shots to already vaccinated citizens.
According to Africa CDC, less than 7% of Africans have been fully vaccinated, compared to over 70% of the European Union’s population.
In addition, it is projected that by the end of 2021, wealthier nations will have accumulated about 1.2 billion surplus vaccine doses, despite global calls for equitable access and sharing of resources to end the acute stage of the pandemic.
“As of October 2021, only 5 out of 54 African countries were projected to hit the World Health Organisation (WHO) target of fully vaccinating 40% of their populations by the end of the year. This means that Africa is likely to be the last home of the COVID-19 pandemic if more urgent action is not taken to address the persistent vaccine inequity that has put us in such a vulnerable position,” said Dr. Githinji Gitahi, Group CEO, Amref Health Africa.
“Without access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines low-income countries would need to increase their health care spending by up to 60% to vaccinate 70% of their populations. This is nearly an impossible ask for countries whose economies and health systems have been battered by the pandemic – which is why we are advocating for greater global accountability through our Five Point Plan to End Vaccine Injustice in Africa,” added Dr. Gitahi.
The five-point plan calls on world leaders to end stockpiling of vaccines in wealthy nations and accelerate dose donations to lower-income countries in Africa and other regions to ensure truly equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Also, the plan will limit COVID-19 booster shots in line with the WHO’s call for a moratorium that would see high-income countries refrain from administering booster doses and instead share vaccine supplies with African countries to enhance access for the world’s most vulnerable populations.
In addition to these, it has raised calls to share more and faster to meet the WHO target of vaccinating at least 40% of each country’s population by the end of the year, and 70% by mid-2022.
The global leaders have also been nudged to share licenses, technology and know-how and waive Intellectual Property Rights for COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics globally to ensure that effective treatments are quickly available in all parts of Africa and around the world.
AMREF also aims to ensure that never again will Africa find itself in a position where it is almost fully reliant on wealthier countries for lifesaving medical supplies and other resources, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for health workers, research and development, and local manufacturing of diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.
The campaign comes against the backdrop of the recent discovery of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, first identified by scientists in South Africa and deemed a variant of concern by the WHO. In response the United States, European Union, United Kingdom and Canada, among others, have imposed travel bans on South Africa and several other countries in the region including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe, prompting harsh criticism from stakeholders.
“The reaction we have seen is extremely frustrating but not surprising. The (Western) world locked vaccines from getting to Africa, and now they’re locking Africa from accessing the world. For anyone to think that you can lock out a virus by stopping Africans from traveling is unacceptable. It is unscientific, it equates to racism, and it should stop. Let us vaccinate everyone so that we can protect everyone,” added Dr. Gitahi.