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Coronavirus: Ngozi, Diop & Tedros unite to break the vaccine deadlock in Africa

By Aurélie M’Bida

Posted on April 19, 2021 08:19

Firefox_Screenshot_2021-04-16T08-37-56.703Z The three leaders say that there is an urgent need for pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccine production capacity © SIPHIWE SIBEKO/AFP
The three leaders say that there is an urgent need for pharmaceutical companies to share their vaccine production capacity © SIPHIWE SIBEKO/AFP

WTO, IFC, WHO… Africans at the helm of the world’s largest international institutions have called for greater solidarity in the global distribution of vaccines at the 2021 Spring Meetings of the World Bank and IMF.

“#VaccineEquity is not an act of charity; it’s the best and fastest way to control the pandemic globally, and to reboot the global economy,” said Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO. In particular, he believes that richer countries should funnel coronavirus vaccines to developing countries, which includes the majority of nations on the continent.

Recalling what he had said a few weeks earlier at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Tedros deplored the unfulfilled initial promises of these richer nations.

“Since the pandemic started the solidarity and national unity has not really as good as one would desire,” he said during the “Vaccin4All” session at the Spring Meetings co-hosted virtually by the World Bank and IMF from 5-11 April. Tedros called on governments to increase their collaboration on research and production of a vaccine against Covid-19, which was declared a global pandemic by the WHO back in March 2020.

The private sector’s pivotal role

After this initial observation and in response to the question of how the private sector can contribute to increasing the production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, Makhtar Diop, the newly appointed head of the IFC (World Bank Group), identified three levers for action.

According to him, there are many ways in which the private sector can play an important role in ensuring that developing economies can also access and distribute vaccines. These include:

  • Help in speeding up vaccine research and production;
  • Putting in place the right logistics to ensure effective distribution;
  • Encouraging investment in local pharmaceutical companies.

The new head of the IFC is the point of contact for private sector actors seeking funding from the Bretton Woods organisation.

In short, the role of the private sector appears to be crucial in implementing a coordinated, effective and rapid response so that all countries have an equal shot of overcoming this pandemic.

To this end, Diop stressed the need for governments and private companies to work together, especially within the context of a longer-term goal. “Let’s also keep our eyes on the long-term goal of building resilient health and logistics systems in developing economies,” he said.

Africa, the poor relation

The same call came from the head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and former chair of Gavi – the organisation that co-manages the Covax initiative. “The biggest economic stimulus for developing countries would be equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

In order to achieve this, she is calling for an immediate transfer of technology from the pharmaceutical industries that developed the vaccines, so that production sites can be set up around the world to increase manufacturing capacity.

Many African countries are considered to be developing economies by comparison to the more developed ones. For that reason, they are included in the Covax international solidarity initiative set up by the UN and its partners. To date, 32 of the 102 countries that have received Covid-19 vaccines through Covax are in Africa.

But Africa accounts for only a small share of global vaccinations. According to the WHO Regional Office for Africa, only 2% of the 690 million vaccines administered worldwide have been administered on the African continent.

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