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African political and business leaders call for Covid vaccine equity

Monday December 20 2021
the official opening of the 3rd Kusi Ideas Festival in Accra, Ghana.

Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo (second right) with Nation Media Group Chairman Dr Wilfred Kiboro (centre) during the official opening of the 3rd Kusi Ideas Festival at the Accra International Conference Centre in Ghana. PHOTO | POOL

By ALLAN OLINGO

Africa needs to take advantage of the high-level collaboration witnessed during the pandemic to foster better growth for its people. Rwandan President Paul Kagame said that the level of co-operation in Africa since the beginning of the pandemic has been encouraging and should be harnessed further for the betterment of the continent.

President Kagame was speaking virtually at the third edition of Kusi Ideas Festival held in Accra, Ghana last weekend. He said that this year, a lot of progress has been made toward recovery, but Africa still has a long way to go.

“In Rwanda, we see transformation as a continuous process that requires thinking ahead. Going forward, we need to apply the same mindset,” he said, adding that climate smart agriculture should now be scaled up given that the pandemic is threatening food security.

“This practice will improve productivity. I strongly believe that innovation will help us adapt to the pandemic shocks in the private sector. The level of co-operation has been encouraging and beyond the crisis, we shall continue working together.”

The Rwandan President lauded Kusi Ideas Festival, a Nation Media Group initiative, for giving the continent a platform to push its own ideas and agenda.

“The Kusi Ideas Festival is about innovation. Technology creates new ideas. That’s what we need,” he said.

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Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo, who spoke at the event also advocated African co-operation in tackling the issues affecting young people, who are the drivers of the continent’s future.

“I hope the ideas that will come out of this will go a long way in improving the livelihoods of the African people. That is the fire we should strive to have-making ourselves independent,” President Addo said at the opening ceremony on December 9.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni spoke about the Covid vaccine politics, noting that it is unfortunate how the continent is being treated as it seeks to acquire vaccines.

“It is unfortunate that Western nations are monopolising the vaccines, yet the Africa is in much need. For Africa, this has been a big problem — getting our hands on the available vaccines. In Uganda, we are moving on, and doing our own vaccines, despite much opposition from the world,” President Museveni said, adding that his government has managed to contain the Covid-19 spread through a rigorous public health campaign.

Speakers at the two-day conference urged African nations to scale up vaccination campaigns for the continent to win the fight against Covid-19 and ward off new variants.

Dr Sylvia Vito, Africa head of acceleration at AstraZeneca, said that as much African governments have done well in vaccinating their populations, there is still room to push for more vaccines.

“We have to recognise the efforts made by governments. It’s been tough and the challenges a year later have exposed the vulnerability of the continent. We can do better,” Dr Vito said.

AstraZeneca has offered two-thirds of vaccines to Third World countries, with 45 million destined for Africa.

“We started well but, with the Indian ban on vaccine exports, the vaccination campaign in developing countries slowed. But in the past two months, we have delivered 17.5 million vaccines across Africa,” she said.

According to the Africa CDC, under 10 percent of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated, against a target of 40 percent as per the World Health Organisation (WHO). The low vaccination numbers have been attributed to vaccine access that disfavour the continent coupled and apathy driven by a myriad of myths and fears.

“Yes, we do have barriers as a continent,” Dr Vito said. “But we also have to appreciate the efforts made to ensure the vulnerable aren’t exposed. As scientists, we can confirm that the latest variant is still within the containment of the testing and vaccines available.”

“We need to see at least 40 percent vaccinated before we even think of booster shots. The booster conversation isn’t something Africa should even have. Instead, the continent should get as many adults as possible to be vaccinated.”

Speaking at a panel discussion on the continent’s vaccine acquisition, Dr John Mark Bwanika, Director of Operations at Rocket Health Africa, said that Covid has shown that Africa needs to move much faster.

“The pandemic has given us a boost to improve our health infrastructure. We need to pick up lessons from unique vaccination rollouts across Africa, with model countries like Rwanda leaving a lot to be emulated. We have seen misunderstandings in the rollout that slowed the process but now the drive is picking up,” Dr Bwanika said. He added that despite the vaccines coming later than the continent needed them, Africa needs to do more to push up the numbers.

Charles Abugre, a member of the programme advisory committee at Christian Aid, lamented the cost of vaccines for the continent, terming it as unsustainable.

“We are paying far more for the vaccines than the rich countries. At $10 a dose, that’s too much for the continent to bear,” Mr Abugre said. “We recognise the need for the vaccine firms to make a return for investment but there must me a limit. Vaccine economics demand that we aggressively support the governments that seek to manufacture vaccines to make them affordable.”

He criticised the West over the vaccine politics, which he said was a repeat of the 1990s’ HIV/Aids antiretroviral access fight.

“As we can now see, there is a vaccine apartheid against Africa and we need vaccine justice. At this point, we need to retain every dollar to invest within the continent. And that’s why we must ask for low vaccination costs.”

“Western countries have failed to live to their word. We were told no one is safe until we all are fully vaccinated. And yet we see vaccine-hoarding. How then do we achieve the numbers when we don’t have access to the vaccines?”

He also waded into the “Afrophobia” debate that has seen parts of Southern Africa blacklisted by over 30 countries over the Omicron variant, terming it as ‘unfortunate and illogical.”

“Any virus will always mutate and scientists know this. The closure of borders is less to do with science and more of politics,” he said.

We are proud of what the scientists did is laudable. Mutations happen but we should be okay that omicron is not an escapable variant-from testing and vaccination,” Dr Vito said.