Harare – Rich countries have already vaccinated a combined 40 percent of their populations against COVID-19 at a time Africa has reached just 2.9 percent of its 1.3 billion people.
The World Health Organisation now estimates that nine out of 10 African countries will not be able to inoculate 10 percent of their populations by the end of September.
Not that African nations have been sitting idle while rich nations hoard vaccines.
Countries in Southern Africa – which is the region worst affected by COVID-19 on the continent – have over the past seven months imported tens of millions of doses of vaccines.
The vast majority of these have been acquired by South Africa and Zimbabwe, and vaccination coverage rates across the region are steadily rising – but overall still fall far short of reaching herd immunity.
The region has a ways to go if it is to reach the 60 percent target of the SADC population of 345.2 million, or 207.1 million people.
That said as it is, six of the 10 most vaccinated countries in Africa are in SADC: Seychelles (1), Mauritius (2), Zimbabwe (6), Comoros (7), eSwatini (9), and South Africa (10).
However, three of the ten least vaccinated are also in SADC: Madagascar (46), Tanzania (48), and the DRC (51).
As of August 28, according to information culled from Our World in Data and Statista, this was the state of play in SADC:
|Total Population||Total Vaccinated||Doses per 100 People||Ranking in Africa|
In all, SADC has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on vaccines from Asia, Europe and North America.
And with every vaccine procured, the region is exporting jobs, which has caused leaders and experts to raise concern – especially as it appears that the virus is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Which is the basis for the lobby that says Africa should invest in growing its own capacity to produce pharmaceuticals internally instead of relying on imports and donations from developed countries, which in any case have their own interests to cater for.
As a solution, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has availed US$3 billion to support vaccine manufacturing on the continent.
Speaking at a recent G20 Compact meeting with African Presidents, AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said the institution would be availing money to fund the continent’s pharmaceutical capacity.
South Africa`s President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted the importance of a collective approach that will not only save the continent billions of dollars in pharmaceutical imports, but would also ensure that in future, Africa will not have to rely on the goodwill of vaccine hoarders.
As President Ramaphosa emphasised, “Africa will not recover (economically and socially) unless all Africans are vaccinated.”
In addition, boosting local vaccine production can lead to export earnings for Africa.
For example, in the first half of 2021 China exported 500 million vaccines, which was one-sixth of the world’s production of inoculants.
This means that at an average global price of US$12 per dose, China made at least US$5 billion from vaccine sales in the first six months of this year.
The World Bank says Africa is hindered by a lack of human resources needed to manufacture vaccines, in addition to other structural challenges related to research infrastructure.
But talent is not in short supply.
Dr Tatenda Shopera, a Zimbabwean, was among the scientists who worked to formulate the Pfizer vaccine.
“I am hopeful that this is an opportunity for us, whatever skills set each one of us is getting, we will one day develop Africa, we will bring solutions,” Dr Shopera said in a recent interview.
And in June 2021, a patent waiver was issued to ensure that stringent intellectual property requirements around vaccines are suspended, in the interest of saving lives. The United States, from where vaccines like Pfizer and Modena come, has signed off on the temporary waiver on vaccines.
This means governments and experts from the SADC region can more or less freely piggyback on research and techniques already developed so that they quickly up their own pharmaceutical capacity.
These developments – the AfDB financial facility and the waiver on certain intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing – presents a solid platform on which SADC can implement Article 29 of its Protocol on Health. That article of the protocol speaks to the need to “co-operate and assist one another” in the “production, procurement and distribution of affordable essential drugs”.