Former Ambassador to the African Union
The emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in South Africa has placed the cat among the pigeons. There’s a lot of fly culling going on, trying to nip it in the bud. The use of mixed messages creates a dichotomy that African countries may well do without. South Africa is to be commended for its vigilance and information. However, he was ostracized by some countries. Along with this, many of its neighboring countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have also been designated as countries from which travelers would be monitored.
Countries recovering from the pandemic and the challenges of immunization fear that new variants could undermine their progress in the fight against Corona. While Omicron has so far not led to major hospitalizations, its structure is a source of anxiety. The effectiveness of existing vaccines and testing programs could be called into question if Omicron were to become destructive.
A scientific and rational vision is required rather than a blanket ban on relations with the countries of southern Africa. It will be better for countries to collaborate and support countries like South Africa, which pointed out the variant. Any sense of punishment for such reporting will be detrimental to others reporting such actions in the future.
Expanding immunization programs is a challenge in coping with the pandemic. With increased vaccine production, better distribution is needed. According to the African Center for Disease Control (ACDC), as of December 3, Africa had 8.6 million cases of Covid-19 and more than 2.23 lakh of deaths. An estimated 8.1 million people have recovered and 82.5 million tests have been performed. ACDC reports that Africa administered 56.4% of its allocated doses; 10.6% of people are partially vaccinated and only 7% fully vaccinated.
No less than 417.5 million vaccines have been received in Africa, of which 235.8 million are administered. Twelve different vaccines are supplied to Africa under COVAX; 21% of them are AstraZeneca. Nineteen vaccines are supplied under bilateral agreements in which Sinopharm holds a 26.5% share. As part of the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), four vaccines were obtained in which Johnson and Johnson holds a 66% share.
Nevertheless, Africa still faces a shortfall of around 470 million vaccines. The goal is to vaccinate at least 60% of the population by 2022.
Africa is at the center of the support of his friends around the world. India has expressed solidarity with Africa and offers support by providing Indian vaccines. India has so far supplied 25 million doses to 41 African countries. This includes 1 million doses granted to 16 countries and 16 million doses under COVAX to 33 countries.
In a quick reaction to the Omicron fear, India has cleared all requests from COVAX for the supply of Covishield vaccines. These include supplies to Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Guinea and Lesotho in Africa. Botswana’s request for Covaxin is also authorized.
India has informed African countries that other requirements will be met quickly. India stands ready to provide African countries with essential medicines, test kits, gloves, PPE kits and medical equipment such as ventilators.
Indian institutions responsible for genomic surveillance are ready to cooperate with African research teams for the characterization of viruses. The e-ITEC training program on vaccine and cold chain management is scheduled for this month. Another program on the deployment of immunization programs took place in May.
At the China-Africa ministerial meeting on November 29, China announced an increase in its support for vaccines in Africa. He has promised 1 billion vaccines in 2022. Six hundred million doses are expected in the form of subsidies; 400 million would be thanks to joint production in African countries. Other countries that produce the vaccine like the United States and Germany have also supported Africa. Africa’s ambition is not to get stuck as it was during the Delta variant crisis.
The African Union’s goal now is that by 2040 Africa will produce 60% of the vaccines it needs over the current level of 1%. It is indeed ambitious. This would require the establishment of a new public health order in Africa to meet these ambitions, as well as vaccines, increased manufacture of diagnostics and therapies, training of public health personnel and partnerships geared towards the action.
Four ideas are presented to change this trend. Predictable and reliable supply to reduce transaction costs; distribution must be left with ACDC without earmarked donations; an adequate shelf life of at least ten weeks for donations; one month’s notice helps with local planning and vaccine wastage reduction. The cold chain capacities in some countries cannot cope with the sudden influx of donations. Indian vaccines are preferred because they do not require special cold chain capabilities.
Most vaccine donations do not include associated supplies such as syringes, needles, and associated chemicals, nor do they cover transportation costs. Donations need all the essentials to ensure rapid absorption. This is where the Indian and Chinese models differ. India envisions a demand-driven supply situation and has moved away from the donation model because of the type of issues associated with it. So when countries place orders that are now processed quickly, they have the means to effectively use these vaccines. China’s supply of 600 million doses is generous, but must take into account all of the above issues of predictability, assurance, provision of associated administration instruments, and phased planning so that country systems beneficiaries are not overburdened.
The United States has donated 17 million doses of vaccine to Africa. He is ready to restart vaccine production. They are working with Aspen Pharmacare for J&J and Biovac Institute in Cape Town to complete Pfizer vaccines in South Africa, just as they are working in Hyderabad for the Quad vaccine initiative. Senegal and Egypt are also creating production capacities.
India can effectively help Africa by creating a production unit. Germany has pledged 250 million euros for such an activity. Like the Quad initiative, India should partner with Germany and the United States to create a vaccine production base in East Africa that does not have immediate access to local production. India can offer soft loans and its experience in doing so. It will be significant Indo-African trilateral cooperation.