French President Emmanuel Macron has described the slow speed of Covid-19 vaccination campaigns in Africa as "intolerable", blaming inequality between poor and rich countries for access to vaccines.
"We must respond to this outrageous inequality," Macron said, during a videoconference on Wednesday with Egypt's President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Senegal's President Macky Sall, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Congolese President President Félix Tshisekedi and Comoros President Azali Assoumani.
The goal of the meeting was to identify "priority areas" and help bring African voices to talks planned on Friday between leaders of the G7 countries, according to reports in Le Monde newspaper.
"We are at a moment of truth if we want to act more effectively," said Macron, adding that it was in the interest of the whole world to vaccinate people globally, otherwise the virus would continue to circulate and different variants would emerge.
France's leader highlighted a "bottleneck" in vaccine production and distribution of supplies. He said production capacities in Africa needed to be increased, while transparency on vaccine pricing was needed, pointing to how some Western countries could buy vaccines more cheaply than African countries.
President Macron said he was in favour of giving the World Health Organization and World Trade Organization a "common mandate" to work on removing barriers for accessing supplies of vaccine. He added that global access to coronavirus vaccines would prove to be "a very good test" of a "new multilateralism".
Macron's comments come as France struggles with its own supply of Covid-19 vaccines. Some 3.3 million people have received vaccines in France and health authorities have 859,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in stock, according to the government.
France is indeed part of the Covax facility, which acts as a global collective bargaining initiative to secure vaccine doses for countries who signed up, including those which are self-financing their purchases, as well as assistance from donors for poorer countries.
The first vaccines purchased through Covax are destined to reach the African continent in February, with some 88.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines distributed to 47 countries by the first half of 2021.
Beef up Covax?
France has committed 100 million euros to the Covax facility, while the European Union has also made a separate donation to the Covax Advance Market Commitment, which aims to help poorer countries, according to figures published in December 2020.
Paris has not contributed to African-led efforts to secure their own vaccine supplies organised through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) set up by the African Union regional bloc.
Some 270 million doses of vaccine have been secured through AVATT, with offers for an additional 400 million doses, but the purchase is effectively underwritten by the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to the tune of two billion US dollars, making it hard for many cash-strapped African governments to borrow money.
The US and UK secured vaccine supplies in deal during May 2020, months ahead of France and the European Union, according to data compiled by the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.
The EU tops the vaccine supply with 1.8 billion doses on order, followed by the US and Covax, each with around 1.2 billion doses.
High-income countries were able to negotiate favourable pricing and supply through deals on investing public funds into research and development of Covid-19 vaccines, according to researchers at Duke University.