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COVID-19: Okonjo-Iweala, Elumelu, others urge equitable distribution of vaccines

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With over 25 million COVID-19 vaccines or 1.5 per cent of doses administered in Africa, the continent is currently experiencing the inequitable distribution of the vaccines and this could hold back the much-needed economic recovery of countries in the continent.

A panel of discussants that include President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, Director-General, World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Trade Organisation (WTO), Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and others yesterday, called for an end to “vaccine nationalism” and noted that more fiscal stimulus is very much needed to boost the continent’s economic recovery.

They made this known during the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Africa Day Conversation 2021 to commemorate the Africa Day celebration.

Speaking during the virtual event, President Kagame noted that although Africa has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic and socio- effects have been glaring, the continent’s resilience and partnerships have resulted in the building of Africa’s vaccine manufacturing capacity which is expected to improve national systems of countries in Africa.

According to him, the role of the private sector in this is very huge and it is high time African leaders saw the current situation as a means of dealing with the challenge of insecurity, poverty, political conflict and attracting investments.

“When we talk about the emergence of Africa, that means a continent that is confident in its ability to meet the needs of its people. As for insecurity and poverty, it is a question of us to invest in ourselves. I mean that sense of urgency is needed to address these challenges because there are opportunities for growth in the African continent and so countries have to make it work because political issues still abound in several countries across the continent”, Kagame said.

Corroborating him, the DG WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, stated that Africa cannot rely solely on imports of vaccines from the rest of the world and added that cooperation and not competition or confrontation is key to ending vaccine nationalism.

“As you know, 47 countries in Africa have started vaccinating, however, the volume of vaccines is nowhere near enough. So far, Africa has administered just over 25 million doses or 1.5 per cent of the global community. This is very tragic and thus, there is a need for equitable distribution of the vaccine doses as it is clear that Africa cannot rely solely on imports of vaccines from the rest of the world and so we must build that capacity not only for COVID-19 but for other vaccines and medical products. The cooperation between the public and private sector will be huge in this effort. The problem is vaccine nationalism and this is where the importance of cooperation between African countries to overcome this problem and not on competition and confrontation. Cooperation starts from sharing till a common solution is found. Secondly, there is a need to increase the volume of vaccines we have,” he said.

On her part, Okonjo-Iweala, while describing the figure of vaccinated persons as unacceptable, restated that it is important for the world to reverse the vaccine inequity so that Africa can benefit from it.

“The fact that we have vaccinated so little of our population is not acceptable and the fact that we import 99 per cent of our vaccines and 90 per cent of pharmaceuticals is not acceptable. According to the IMF, if we spend $50 billion additional to vaccinate 40 per cent of the world’s population by 2021, and up to 60 per cent by 2022, we will be able to reverse this vaccine inequity and the world can actually gain $9 trillion by 2025 and so it is important for the world that we reverse this vaccine inequity so that Africa can benefit from it too as we cannot recover sustainably without it,” she explained.

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