Africa: Covid-19 Africa Travel Ban Slammed by AU Expert, Renews Call for #VaccineEquity

Passenger screening at Maya Maya International Airport, Brazzaville, DR Congo (file photo).
29 November 2021

Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, an African Union vaccine expert, has slammed a decision by Western governments to ban African travelers following the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant. In a televised interview on BBC, Olatunbosun-Alakija said that the restrictions were objectionable. "Quite frankly, it is unacceptable, these travel bans are based on politics and not in science, it is wrong," she said.

Olatunbosun-Alakija went on to say that had the pandemic originated in Africa, the drive to develop vaccines would have been deemed less critical. "Had the first Covid-19 virus, the one first identified in China last year, originated in Africa it is clear the world would have locked us away and thrown away the key," she said. There would have been no urgency to develop vaccines because we would have been expendable. Africa would have become known as the continent of Covid-19. What is going on is inevitable and is a result of the world's failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner," Olatunbosun-Alakija said.

Olatunbosun-Alakija added: "We knew this was a crossroads it was going to bring us to. It was going to bring us to a variant. It was going to bring us to more dangerous variants. Why are we acting surprised? Why are we locking away Africa when this virus is already on three continents? Nobody is locking away Belgium and Israel. Why are we locking away Africa? It is wrong and it is time our African leaders stand up and find their voice."

Olatunbosun-Alakija's commenst come shorty alfter President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke out against "unjust" travel bans targeted at South Africa. In a national address, Ramaphosa said: We are deeply disappointed by the decision of several countries to prohibit travel from a number of Southern African countries following the identification of the Omicron variant ... These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our Southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant."

Vaccine equity has been a topic of contention between wealthy and poorer countries since availability of Covid-19 treatment across the world. Some countries have been dependent on donations from wealthier countries, which often come with a short notice period, making planning and distribution difficult. A press release by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reads: "Countries need predictable and reliable supply. Having to plan at short notice and ensure uptake of doses with short shelf lives exponentially magnifies the logistical burden on health systems that are already stretched. Furthermore, ad hoc supply of this kind utilizes capacity - human resources, infrastructure, cold chain - that could be directed towards long-term successful and sustainable rollout. It also dramatically increases the risks of expiry once doses with already short shelf-lives arrive in country, which may have long-term repercussions for vaccine confidence."

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