By Melody Mlilo
The World Health Organisation has just reported that about 2 billion worth of Covid-19 vaccines – under the Covax facility – are earmarked for Africa.
A further 1 billion doses could be availed. However, the rollout of the vaccine is likely to be problematic amid greed and chaos, as the wealthier nations in the West are scrambling for the limited life-saving drugs, ensuring that their deep pockets put them in front of the queue. The United States for example, refused to become part of a global coalition of nations to ensure a harmonised system, arrogating itself the right to have the first access to the medicines that companies it controls are able to produce. African nations are too poor to compete, amid fears that at worst African countries would be able to fully inoculate citizens in 2022 – a year after richer countries would have put their citizens to safety. The implications are huge: the disease – now in a deadly second wave – would have swept death across the continent of 1.2 billion.
That is the worst case scenario. It is heartening that China could provide the much needed buffer. China, a manufacturer of a its vaccine in its own right through SinoPharm, is cooperating with the World Health Organisation to ensure that Africa gets access to the vaccine within the framework of Covax. Additionally, it is availing its medicines, with Morocco and Kenya having ordered some vaccines, in what will be a first for Africa. China will likely have three vaccine regimens that the developing world, including Africa will benefit from. The fact that in itself, China is leading the world in the number of vaccinations, having seen about 9 million vaccinations so far, frees its other hand to assist Africa.
Poorer countries like Zimbabwe will benefit from China’s equitable distribution of the vaccine based on Beijing’s policy that the vaccine is a “public good”, as emphasised by President Xi in June during the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit On Solidarity Against COVID-19. Consequently, Beijing has set aside up to $2 billion to ensure that Africa gets access to the vaccine.
“In doing so, China continues its longstanding tradition of developing world solidarity and will help the continent overcome the obstacles of Western elitism in its fight against COVID-19, making a route out of this crisis possible,” one expert on global affairs wrote recently.
He noted that the distribution of the vaccine was skewed because of America’s greed disguised as “America first” and that European countries, which would normally play a role in assisting, are not able to help at all because of the continent’s disastrous handling of the COVID-19. Ironically, both historically had “moral obligation” to help Africa which often suffered pandemic and hunger that barely touched them.
According to the expert, China’s policy towards Africa could finally make the difference – a culmination of measures such as the construction of an Africa Centre for Disease Control (CDC) headquarters and China-Africa friendship hospitals, the servicing of medical terms, personnel and resources, an acceleration of debt relief programs to help mitigate Africa’s economic struggles due to the virus and most importantly, commitments on the vaccine.
Recently, Morocco became the first African country to procure vaccines from China and as clinical trials for CanSino, Sinopharm and Sinovac candidates come to the completion, hundreds of millions are expected to be donating to various countries across the developing world, as well as through the COVAX programme.
Chinese authorities in Zimbabwe have indicated that Zimbabwe will be among the first to receive the vaccines. This will be a huge boost for the Southern African country because of the vulnerability in its health systems.
The country is also under Western sanctions, which may hinder the country’s access to medicines, if history is anything to go by.
Zimbabwe was previously denied access to HIV and TB funding due to the sanctions imposed by the United States of America and European Union.