Why Africa is unprepared for Covid-19 vaccine

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020 00:00 |
Moderna Covid-19 vaccine has 94 per cent efficacy. Photo/Courtesy

In the last couple of weeks the world has seen a glimmer of light at the end of the seemingly endless coronavirus pandemic nightmare, after a few companies announced an Eureka moment in the search for a vaccine.

The first news of a potentially effective vaccine was announced by the US-German collaboration of pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech on November 9, who said preliminary studies had shown that the vaccine can prevent people from getting infected with the virus by up to 95 per cent.

Pfizer has said that it will manage to produce 6.4 million doses of its vaccine for distribution within the US by mid-December, with over one billion by the end of 2021.

There have been subsequent announcements of new vaccines in the offing, with the manufacturers giving the same 2020/2021 timeline for production and delivery.

It therefore goes that soon, after the necessary approval and licences, there will be enough vaccines to start the biggest ever immunisation exercise in human history. 

In a statement released from Brazzaville on Thursday tiled, “WHO urges African countries to ramp up readiness for Covid-19 vaccination drive”, the World Health Organisation warned that its “analysis finds that Africa is far from ready for what will be the continent’s largest ever immunisation drive.”

WHO’s Vaccine Readiness Assessment Tool, which has been shared with all the 47 countries within the body’s purview, covers 10 key areas, namely, planning and coordination, resources and funding, vaccine regulations, service delivery, training and supervision, monitoring and evaluation, vaccine logistics, vaccine safety and surveillance and communications and community engagement.

Going by self-assessment using the tool by 40 of the 47 countries under WHO, the African region has an average score of 33 per cent readiness for a Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, which is well below the desired benchmark of 80 percent.

The statement by WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti painted a rather gloomy picture that the vaccine will not reach those who need it most in the continent if leaders do not address the structural and systemic shortcomings that are bound to hinder effective distribution. 

Although it is not debatable that Africa’s modus operandi is below the global benchmark, experts are of the view that the continent can use ingenuity to cover up the shortfalls.

 Indeed, Africa already has the basic infrastructure for the distribution task from past health initiatives.

For instance, many African countries have a strong network that has been used previously in the fight against HIV/Aids, and the polio vaccination campaigns, which target children below five years.

In both instances, health authorities have managed, over the years, to reach at least half of the population in countries where they undertake programs.

Authorities can also use templates that are usually used for registration of persons for identity cards or during elections. Again, these two exercises usually reach the ground, with almost everyone managing to get into the databases. 

The weak link in the entire vaccination ecosystem is the shortage of finances.

With adequate financial resources, African countries can build on the existing infrastructure in their respective healthcare systems to deliver adequate numbers in the immunisation campaign within a reasonable timeframe.

Ultimately, Africa has to work more in opening up and developing both its terrestrial and digital systems and operations in order to be more in sync with global trends and standards.

The Cov id-19 vaccination challenge comes with a silver lining, as it will expose the existing gaps that need to be filled. — The writer is a communications expert and public policy  analyst  [email protected]

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