The Coronavirus Vaccine and Africa's Woes

The Coronavirus Vaccine and Africa's Woes

"The world risks a moral catastrophe." The Cameroonian virologist veteran John Nkengasong, head of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC-Africa), expressed himself as such. Worried about possible late arrival of the coronavirus vaccines to the continent, he is not the only one in such a state of mind.

"I hope the vaccination campaigns start by April," Nkengasong explains as the second wave is already hitting the continent including South Africa. The fight against time continues. Although Africa is the continent with one of the lowest infections globally, local authorities prefer to remain vigilant. Restrictions have recently been imposed in various states due to this new surge in the pandemic. "In the last week, the Covid-19 infections have increased by 19% and deaths by 26%," underline the CDC-Africa estimates. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Africa has registered 2.7 million cases and 64 thousand deaths.

Of the 54 African states, South Africa has the most serious situation with over a million infections and over 30,000 deaths. It is precisely in the so-called "Rainbow Nation" that the authorities have begun to manage the new coronavirus variant: more lethal and faster in spreading. Internal and external gatherings are prohibited; curfew between 9 PM and 6 AM will be applied together with a ban on alcohol sales, said the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa. And he added: "Unless we act now and unless we act decisively, the number of new infections will far exceed what we experienced during the first wave, and thousands of more people will lose their lives," he said.

Zimbabwe has announced similar restrictions. In Chad, where the virus has had one of the slightest impacts compared to the rest of the continent (only 2,000 corona virus infections since March), the recent increase in cases has forced the president, Idriss Deby, to impose a night curfew and the obligation to wear a mask. However, it remains very difficult to agree at the African and international level on how to react. Now that vaccination campaigns have been launched in Western countries, Africa is eagerly awaiting experts to make a joint and determined decision. "Unfortunately, most of the decision-making power on who gets first access to future COVID-19 vaccines remains in company hands," emphasized the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on its website.

One thing is sure: vaccine information must be shared. Most of the authorities and humanitarian agencies on the continent are pushing for African laboratories, such as those in Senegal and South Africa, to produce vaccines themselves, facilitating their distribution and lowering costs. A health policy that, however, contrasts with the intentions of some Western pharmaceutical companies who prefer to keep certain notions about the vaccine confidential.

"We risk that other foreign powers such as Russia and China will take over with their vaccines of dubious quality" some African health workers admit. This pandemic is taking on an increasingly geopolitical dimension with respect to our continent. Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, had already declared in September that "developing countries, especially Africa, will have priority when Chinese vaccines begin to be distributed."

Less than a month ago, the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, had ordered his health minister to "look to China for coronavirus vaccination campaigns." However, vaccination campaigns are not yet underway or planned in over fifty African countries. The Russian Sputnik V vaccine's immunization process began on Thursday in Conakry, the Guinea capital: two million doses of the serum have already arrived from Moscow. An action considered by many, like the Chinese offers, to be equal to a "health colonization."

The absence of a strategy is worrying several scientists in the international community. Also, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Covax Program, promoted by the World Health Organization to take vaccines to the poorest countries, will certainly not satisfy all requests. Especially in the short term.