Africa: Covid-19 Vaccines and Its Power Dynamics Where Does Africa Stand

UNICEF supply officer Mohamadou Sy at the airport in Abidjan where a shipment of COVAX COVID-19 vaccines are offloaded.

On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID 19 as a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). This eventually allowed the World Health Organization to play coordinating and advisory roles in global response mechanisms. A month later, on March 11, a pandemic was declared to over 118.000 cases of coronavirus illness in over 110 countries and territories worldwide, with more than 4300 deaths attributed to the disease. To date, the global statistics of the infection is 106 million, with the total recovered placed at 59.3million, while the death toll at current is 2.32million. Out of these statistics, Africa has so far recorded 3.5% of global virus cases and 4% of global deaths, according to Africa- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC, 2020).

"Even though the disease has not affected Africa as other places but the worsening economic conditions of most African nations could potentially place them at a disadvantage of acquiring COVID 19 vaccines, and the expectation for donor interventions remains a question to ponder."

Given the power dynamics surrounding medicines, especially the current pandemic, rich and powerful nations primarily address the challenges facing their people in receiving the vaccines. In contrast, Africa continues to play at the dictates of these nations. This probably gives annoying reasons why many would think that the future of Africa remains bleak, and the possibility of attaining our vaccines remains questionable. This worrying situation continues to undermine the global efforts against Coronavirus and several preventable diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, among others. Now, the question that one would ask is where does Africa stand amid the power dynamics with regards to COVID Vaccines?

The Saga- Doubts, Insinuations, and Rejection of COVID 19 Vaccines

It is emphatic that there are frequent doubts and insinuations about the vaccines' effectiveness given the timeframe used to produce those vaccines and the new strains that continue to emerge. Another argument that ensues is that the world has placed more attention on COVID 19 than other deadly diseases. In several regions across the continent, denial and aspersion against the pandemic's existence remain increasingly cumbersome. For instance, Tanzania has insisted the country is free from Covid-19 - so there are no clear plans for vaccination. According to BBC, since June last year, when President John Magufuli declared the country "Covid-19 free", he, along with his top government officials, have mocked the efficacy of masks, doubted if testing works, and at the same time teasing neighboring countries that have imposed health measures to curb the virus. The President also warned - without providing any scientific evidence - that Covid-19 vaccines could be harmful and has instead been urging Tanzanians to use steam inhalation and herbal medicines, neither of which have been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) as treatments or the Center for Disease Control.

Also, the Madagascar scenarios on COVID treatment only exacerbated the exponential increment of cases than expected. The herbal used for COVID 19 treatment has not proved effective. On average, the coronavirus cases have quadrupled in the past months in the Indian Ocean Island, with more than 13,000 infections and 162 deaths from which has spread to all of its 22 regions. Though several countries received the herbal treatment from Madagascar, yet on average, there is no scientific evidence pointing to the effectiveness of such herb in treating or preventing the virus. Liberia, for example, received a few boxes of herbal tea dubbed "COVID organics." Yet, the health authorities cannot show how these treatments are scientifically administered. There is no scientific information about the effect of these treatments. These expressions could simply be pointed to conspiracy theories about outbreaks and global health threats because of a lack of trust from their governments.

On the other hand, many believe that Malaria has killed over (274,000) persons in Africa, representing 67% of global statistics, and it is yet to be systematically addressed. It is noted that malaria has more deadly consequences on Africans' lives than COVID and Ebola combined. The WHO African Region carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2019, the region was home to 94% of malaria cases and deaths (WHO, 2020).

In the same year, six countries accounted for approximately half of all malaria deaths worldwide: Nigeria (23%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), United Republic of Tanzania (5%), Burkina Faso (4%), Mozambique (4%) and Niger (4%). Children less than five years of age are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria; in 2019, they accounted for 67% of all malaria deaths worldwide (WHO, 2020). Now, the question that resonates with the people is, has Africa done much in investing in scientific knowledge to address the dreadful impacts of Malaria and its related diseases?

Unfortunately, it is argued that most governments in Africa are bent on retaining and strategizing for political leadership rather than primarily addressing socio-economic issues like providing comprehensive healthcare delivery and improved living conditions as emphasized in the Sustainable Development Goals. There are more robust and powerful military institutions than strong and equipped medical institutions in Africa. Nigeria, for instance, is expected to spend a total of US$9.5 billion on its defense from 2018-2022 (Future of the Nigerian Defense Industry - Market Attractiveness, Competitive Landscape and Forecasts).While public spending on health care amounts to just 3.75% of its $495 billion GDP, according to the latest available figures from the World Bank. Despite these allocations on defense, the country is yet to be free from frequent insurgency orchestrated by terrorist networks (Boko Haram). These painstaking realities will continue to exist unless we underscore the necessity of investing in scientific work/research, or the continent's future will be at a critical juncture, if not bleak.

Africa We Want - Investing In Scientific Knowledge

One would dream of an Africa that will invest its abundant resources into building and strengthening a resilient healthcare system that prevents its people from life-threatening diseases. This requires health financing and strengthening the capacity of our institutions to respond to possible public health threats and to conduct scientific research by African scientists. Sub-Saharan African nations that receive massive support from development institutions should begin adjusting their national development agendas by giving priority to building comprehensive healthcare delivery. The Africa Center for Disease Control should advocate for resources to invest in medicine, both traditional and modern treatments that will be a beacon of hope for its underprivileged populations. Investing in good governance will similarly address socioeconomic conditions and rekindle the people's confidence and ensure full compliance.

Conclusion

To date, the global statistics of the infection is approximately 106 million, with the total recovered, is 59.3million, while the death toll currently stands at 2.32million. Out of these statistics, Africa has so far recorded 3.5% of global virus cases and 4% of global deaths, according to Africa- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC, 2020). Instituting lockdown across the continent has proved no scientific significance but to serve as a barrier to the socio-economic sustainability of poor and impoverished families that are in extreme poverty and hunger due to systemic corruption and income disparity. African governments have spent millions of dollars on military strategies, arsenals, coverts, and political alliances, while infant and maternal mortalities remain incremental. Simultaneously, life expectancy and the human development index are discouragingly appallingly, with the average life expectancy at birth from 2008 - 2018 was 61.27 years (H. Plecher, 2020). The way to resolve some of these challenges is that the continent invests in good governance, scientific knowledge, and economic sustainability by committing significant components of our natural endowments on health financing, research, and empowering our scientific communities. African institute for mathematical sciences, West Africa College of Physicians and Surgeons, will enable Africa's youth, especially those in the sciences, to shape the continent's future through Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Also, as advanced by the International Economic Forum on Africa, vaccines should be considered global public goods. The international community must strive to ensure the equitable and timely distribution of vaccines against COVID-19 and enable 60% of the African population to be vaccinated. These steps are deemed necessary for policy actions by the African Union and African governments to be committed to ensuring outcomes and subsequent impacts.

About the author: Amara Quardu Muhammad Kamara holds double masters in Development Studies and Project Management at Mount Kenya University, Kenya, and the University of Kigali, Rwanda.

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