Universal efforts and science will help end Covid-19 Pandemic.

By Allawi Ssemanda.

Covid-19 pandemic which has forced almost entire world to embrace unprecedented measures such as lockdowns and encouraging social distancing is arguably the world’s worst pandemic in our modern history. Counting the cost occasioned by this pandemic sofa, from human loss to economic, social and psychological impact, the loss is overwhelming. 4.16 million deaths have so far been reported with over 194 million cases globally.

What is encouraging is that from onset, arguably, the world’s response has been swift – ranging from new technologies to support public health, speedy novel approaches to development of vaccines, and sacrifice by health workers. Unity exhibited by world leaders in forging ways on how to counter the pandemic provided a clear case that with unity, the world can achieve much! Sharing of important knowledge and extending assistance such as medical supplies from within south-south cooperation countries with China holding the flag was a plus. The pandemic arguably gives an insight of the success the world can achieve if we work as a team. The Covax initiative is a one of examples in this case. Despite the initiate not delivering enough vaccines as promised which some analysts have attribute to vaccine nationalism and hoarding especially in some western capitals, possibly, the world is now aware that Global challenges are best handled when we work as a family.

Sadly, despite global collaboration in containing Covid-19 pandemic, unless swiftly stop what appears to be glaring mistakes such as those promoting unbacked conspiracy theories like “lab leak” attributing it to be the origin of coronavirus and those downplaying science, politicizing the pandemic, and social media manipulation which has played dangerous role of promoting misinformation and fake news, the fight against Covid-19 pandemic maybe derailed.

Whereas it is acceptable for people to question and as Indira Gandhi who taught us; “the power to question is the basis of all human progress”, when it comes to science, there is no room for guesswork or playing politics. As Carl Edward Sagan, a renown American scientist once observed; “The suppression of uncomfortable ideas maybe common in religion or politics, but it is not the path to knowledge and there is no place for it in the endeavour of science.” Therefore, the world to overcome Covid-19 pandemic and possible other future pandemics, there is need to respect and listen to science which sometimes may go against our wishes especially political.

In context of defeating Covid-19 and studying the origins of Coronavirus, politicians must leave WHO to their work independently, free from any pressure and unsolicited guidance. Unfortunately, this is not the case and some countries continue to issue statements that if taken into consideration, they may end up influencing the findings of planned study. For example, apart from pulling U.S’ membership from WHO, some senior politicians in Washington including then President, Donald Trump consistently and publicly branded coronavirus “the Wuhan virus” and sometimes “Chinese virus.” It is common sense that with such statements even before any investigation by WHO, the U.S had already declared their position or set a stage on origins of the virus. Of course, White House tasking CIA to investigate origins of coronavirus is like asking a dentist to do heart surgery. Total guesswork and broadly, an insult to international intelligence.

In law, discussing issues before inquiry is against the principle of sub-judice, which bars legal practitioners or the general public from discussing an ongoing case or inquiry since such discussions may prejudice officers involved and hence, affecting the outcome of the inquiry.

Arguably, it is continued political interference often made through their public speeches that in long run is delaying the world’s effort in defeating Covid-19 and origins of coronavirus. A case in point is World Health Organization’s (WHO) notification to member states of its workplan on phase two of organization’s study on origins of coronavirus with emphasis on “lab leak”, a theory largely advanced by some politicians against scientists. While finding the truth and origins surrounding coronavirus is a positive step which will help in containing Covid-19 pandemic and other related future outbreaks, such findings to win public’s trust, the process must be independent of any kind of covert or overt political influence and let science and medical experts do their work.

Important to note is that; during the 73rd session of World Health Assembly (WHA) held on 17th -21st May 2021 requested WHO Director General to work closely with other countries and identify the zoonotic source of the virus; and the route how or how the virus was introduced to human population.

Basing on WHO’s phase one study whose findings concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” that coronavirus started in a laboratory, one expects WHO’s further studies to concentrate on likely coronavirus pathway to human beings other than the obvious conspiracy theories of “Lab leak.”  From a historical perspective, almost all emerging human virus the world has seen in the last five decades – including 2003 Sars outbreak and Mers in 2012, scientific studies concluded that animals were pathways!

Professor Dominic Dwyer, a renown Australian immunologist and infectious diseases expert who is also a member of WHO’s team of experts argues that; “by virtue of their ecology, bats play a special role, not just with coronaviruses but with other infectious diseases” such as Ebola, Hendra among others. Other scientists strongly hold a similar view that Coronavirus pathway being animal is logical. Professor Andreas Önnerfors of Uppsala University and Swedish Research Council argues that “lab leak theory” and “China virus” are conspiracy theories meant to create a narrative that China be held accountable for the outbreak.

Put differently, in this age of misinformation and fake news, despite not having facts to back such claims, it is easy people to advance claims of “Lab leak” which arguably plays well with the so-called popular culture – in film I am Legend, Will Smith be acting as virologist, trusty canine by his side, an AK-47 gun and vaccine in hand. Dear world leaders, fighting a pandemic should not be reduced to film scenes.

Allawi Ssemanda is a Research Fellow at Development Watch Centre, a Ugandan based Foreign Policy Think Tank.

Criticising China over “Vaccine Diplomacy” is Trivial and Inhuman.

Workers at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe Airport in Harare coordinate the transfer of Sinopharm vaccines donated by the Chinese government to Zimbabwe. PHOTO: CGTN Africa/Farai Mwakutuya
Workers at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe Airport in Harare coordinate the transfer of Sinopharm vaccines donated by the Chinese government to Zimbabwe. PHOTO: CGTN Africa/Farai Mwakutuya

By Allawi Ssemanda.

Over the past months, some international media and political pundits in different capitals have been very active framing and creating negative narrative targeting China’s Covid-19 vaccine donations to poor and developing countries. Many branded this humanitarian gesture as China’s “Vaccine Diplomacy” while other critics see it as “vaccine favouritism” simply because China, a Sovereign Country independently decides who to donate its vaccines.

When you critically look at insinuations raised by Beijing’s critics questioning this life much needed assistance of donating life-saving vaccines to poor and developing countries, the two arguments often advanced are trivial and, in all ways, are naïve.

Firstly, some of critics wonder why before vaccinating its entire population, China is donating covid-19 vaccines to other countries. Drivers of such arguments forgets one key fact: Since November 2020, China has recorded only 0.01 per cent of World’s Covid-19 new cases, and many of these are imported cases. Therefore, whether overtly or covertly, one criticising China for donating vaccines to developing countries before her own population is akin to “Small talk.”  As the saying goes; ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’; China is aware that Covid-19 cases in a number of developing countries is on rise, so criticising Beijing for doing offering a helping hand to countries in need is unacceptable and inhuman.

Secondly, it is now an open secret that with “vaccine nationalism” the world has witnessed especially amongst developed western countries where rich(er) countries booked and bought almost all first production of vaccines and reserved extra for themselves, and many of developed countries dragging heels in supporting COVAX program which is meant to help developing and poor countries secure enough vaccines. Also, COVAX initiative experts say may cover just 20% of those in need, making other sources of Covid-19 vaccine much needed since it saves life.

An argument can also be made that had China not taken this humanitarian step to donate Covid-19 vaccines to poor and developing countries, arguably, to date many of them would still be waiting without a single dose. The consequence of this is severe including continued deaths. Therefore, from humanity perspective, anyone putting Beijing under critical lenses with a view of finding ulterior motives for their humanitarian assistance should be treated with contempt.

Other than the claim that China is donating Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries before vaccinating enough of her citizens and also invested more funds in Belt and Road project, promoters of the so-called “China’s Vaccine Diplomacy” argue that Beijing is doing so because the two meets China’s diplomatic and strategic goals. The argument above doesn’t really hold for it simply promotes selfishness. Even if it was true that China will strategically gain from her humanitarian gesture in aspect of good relations with other countries especially those Beijing has donated or promised to donate vaccines, still this is a very simplistic argument if compared with the outcome of China’s primary intention of donating these vaccines which is saving lives.

Also, from historical perspective, those against China helping others when the country seems to be in need lack historical facts. It is on record China has never been a selfish country and has always been on the side of developing countries. For example, during colonial bondage, despite her challenges at home as a developing country, China played a key role in helping African countries to snap the ugly shackles of colonial rule. In late 1960s, China set up a soft loan of about $400 million to assist in construction of the famous TAZARA railway line linking Tanzania and Zambia which helped in easing transport in East African region and beyond. China set up this fund at a time when its total per capita GDP was still low compared to Sub-Saharan Africa. For record, until 1978, Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP was about $490 while China’s averaged was about $156. Therefore, it is not new China to consider helping other developing countries at a time when Beijing seems to be in need.

It is important to recall that even before Covid-19 pandemic, China has always helped poor and developing countries when it comes to medical assistance. In Uganda for example, Beijing has been helping the country in medical field through different programs including assisting in establishing one of Uganda’s National Hospital, China-Uganda friendship Hospital Naguru which has helped tens of thousands of people in getting specialised medical services. The hospital has Chinese medical experts and, on many occasions, Beijing supplies it with necessary medical supplies. Such assistance is wide spread in different parts of Africa. During Ebola outbreak, Chinese medical experts played a pivotal role in containing the outbreak in a number of developing countries including among others Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo among others.

It is also important to note that China has not only donated vaccines to developing countries but has also extended the same assistance to international organisations. On March 15th, China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun announced that Beijing will donate 300,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines to UN Peace keepers, the first of its kind to the organisation.

If you critically examine arguments raised by critics of China’s vaccines donation, you will see that all reasons advanced are nothing but a cobweb of politics. arguably, it also fits in Beijing’s critics held view that it is always alright for the so-called “traditional doners” not Beijing to offer assistance to developing world. Put differently, this is textbook of libido dominandi – a Latin concept loosely translated as the urge or lust to lead and dominate in everything that gives credit. This way, Beijing’s “Vaccine Diplomacy” critics think it should be the West leading in this good cause which China is presently doing perfectly!

It is upon this background that considering the many benefits of China’s medical assistance to poor and developing countries, instead of putting China’s donation of covid-19 vaccines under microscope hopping to find ulterior motives as some claim, the world should hail China’s humanitarian assistance for offering to assist needy countries by donating the much-needed Covid-19 vaccines specially to developing countries.

By Allawi Ssemanda, Senior Research Fellow at Development Watch Centre. allawissemanda@dwcug.org


Vaccine nationalism poses a major threat to Africa as the West gobbles up supplies – we need to up our game

By David Monyae and Sizo Nkala counsel

The race to inoculate world populations against Covid-19 has begun in earnest and Africa is losing it. According to The New York Times, as of 4 February 2021 a total of 107.3 million vaccine doses had been administered to individuals across the world. North America leads with 6% of its population having been vaccinated, Europe is on 3.6%, Asia is on 0.9%, South America is on 0.7% and Africa lags far behind with fewer than 0.1% while Oceania has none.

In Africa, only four countries have begun administering vaccines to their populations. Morocco is ahead of the pack having administered 200,081 doses, Seychelles is a distant second on 30,861, Egypt has managed 1,315 while Algeria is fourth with a measly 30 vaccinations. South Africa will soon roll out its vaccination campaigns after receiving one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines (ED: Doubt has now been cast on the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to protect against what is commonly called the South Africa strain).

The latest numbers paint a gloomy picture for the continent, which has recorded just under 3.6 million cumulative cases, more than 407,000 active cases and 92,391 deaths. South Africa has been the hardest hit on the continent with more than 1.4 million confirmed cases to date and 44,946 deaths making up 48% of the continental total. Even more worrying is that the Covid-19 death rate has spiked from 2.1% in July 2020 to 2.5% at the moment, and in 21 African countries the rate is above the global average of 2.2%.

This is compounded by the emergence of a new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa known as 501.V2 which reportedly spreads faster than the original virus and may undermine the efficacy of the current vaccines. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has said that the continent needs to inoculate at least 60% of its population to achieve herd immunity. As such, Africa needs access to Covid-19 vaccines as soon as possible.

However, vaccine nationalism presents a formidable challenge as developed countries rush to hoard the available vaccines, leaving nothing for developing countries.

According to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker, rich countries have ordered vaccines from manufacturers multiple times their own population. Canada has ordered 123.8 million doses, which is more than 330% of its population. The United Kingdom ordered more than 201 million doses, which is about 302% of its population, and the United States has placed orders for 555 million, which is 169% of its population.

More than 4.5 billion vaccine doses have been reserved under bilateral pre-purchase contracts with various manufacturers – 46 African countries account for only just over 189 million (4%) of the doses under the pre-purchase contracts of which more than 128 million (67%) are due to Morocco and Egypt.

With vaccine prices ranging from $10 (R148) to $60 (R890.50) per dose, most African countries have been effectively priced out of the market. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine costs $19 per dose, Moderna and the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines cost $25-$37, Johnson & Johnson is priced at $10, Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine also costs $10 and China’s Sinovac is the most expensive at $60.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also the African Union chairperson, decried the hoarding of the vaccines which is “being done to the exclusion of other countries in the world”. The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team set up by Ramaphosa in August 2020 has reportedly secured an additional 270 million doses from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson to be supplied later in 2021.

African countries are also relying on the 600 million doses to be distributed through the World Health Organisation’s Covax initiative, which will cover about 20% of the population.

The shameless and irrational hoarding of vaccines by Western nations has shown that when it comes to survival, the ever-busy Western supply chains will suddenly grow cold. Africa’s long-standing relationship with the West has historically necessitated a Western-inclined approach to African problems. This historical bias needs to be scrutinised. Over-dependence on the West can undermine the continent and its people’s survival when supplies of essential medical products like the vaccines become nationalised as they have been.

Just recently the European Union announced that it will institute export controls on vaccines made in European factories, further constricting already fragile supply chains. Even the notion of multilateralism, so fervently proselytised by the West, seems to be only viable in good times. In the rush to survive the pandemic, it is quickly cast out of the window.

The Covax initiative, which promises fair and equitable access to vaccines and which presents many poorer nations’ best chance to get the vaccines, has also been beaten to the market by the developed countries, some of which are even part of the initiative. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, only three countries in Africa (Gabon, Libya and South Africa) have made financial contributions to the Covax facility. The rest of the countries joined the initiative under the Advance Market Commitment (Covax AMC) which relies wholly on donations through official development assistance. This reinforces Africa’s dubious distinction as an aid-dependent continent.

The emergence of China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine will diversify the supply chains to the advantage of Africa and other poor regions. Indeed Egypt, Morocco and Seychelles are inoculating their populations with China’s Sinopharm vaccine while Algeria is using Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. The vaccines are less of a logistical nightmare as they can be stored in standard refrigerators whereas Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna need to be stored at between -70°C and -20°C.

In a diplomatic offensive, China has already offered $2-billion to Africa and pledged to make the vaccine available to the continent. While this is a welcome offer, it is not sustainable as it makes Africa dependent on the goodwill of others for lifesaving medicine.

The continent should harness and develop manufacturing and research and development capacities of its own so as to cut the dependency on foreign-controlled supply chains, especially for pharmaceutical products. Although there are fairly vibrant pharmaceutical industries in Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and South Africa, the continent depends on foreign suppliers for 80% of its pharmaceutical and medical supplies. Chronic shortage of human resources, lack of capital and modern technology, and the Balkanisation of African markets are some of the factors that have to be addressed urgently to stimulate the growth of the all-important pharmaceutical industry in Africa.

The implementation of the new African Continental and Free Trade Area – especially the elimination of tariffs and non-tariff and technical barriers to trade and the application of the rules of origin – may give a new lease of life for the pharmaceutical industry. The establishment of the Africa CDC in 2016 to boost the continent’s public health policies is also a step in the right direction.

While Africa welcomes the assistance in the construction of its CDC by its strategic partner, China, it nonetheless raises questions about the ability of its leaders to invest in health infrastructure. It certainly does not inspire confidence that the AU will be able to independently source the funds to support the activities and the work of the CDC.

Moreover, there is a need for a paradigm shift in the understanding of national security among African leaders. African countries spend between $8 and $129 on health per capita per annum, far below the $4,000 average spent in high-income countries.

While Africa carries 23% of the disease burden, it accounted for only 1% of global health spending in 2015. Major countries like Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana spent 0.5%, 2.1% and 1.1% of their budgets on healthcare respectively in 2017, which is way below the 15% threshold recommended at the 2001 Abuja Declaration.

Yet military spending has gone up 20% in the past 10 years. As such, there is a need to move away from a traditional understanding of national security as military spending, to embracing a holistic view of security as inclusive of poverty reduction and, much more importantly, public health preparedness. With a shift in budget priorities, Africa can build a robust public health system and wean itself off foreign supply chains whose sudden nationalisation has crippled the continent’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, putting the very survival of its people in jeopardy.

Dr David Monyae is the Director for the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg and Dr Sizo Nkala is a postdoctoral fellow at the same centre.

Source: This article was first published in Daily Maverick



Covid vaccines: Russia, China, India…Who is supplying Africa?

By Marie Toulemonde, The Africa Report. 

Covid vaccination campaigns have kicked off across the globe. But while many developed countries are busy inoculating their populations, the continent is grappling with growing bilateral agreements with foreign laboratories and mobilising its health professionals.

Western countries, perhaps hit harder by the virus, but above all richer, are creating a traffic jam by securing, like Canada, enough vaccines for up to three times their population.

In Africa, deliveries of the vaccines promised by the COVAX aid programme for developing countries are still behind. Faced with the urgent need to contain a second wave that is much more virulent than the first, notably with the South African variant, the AU is releasing funds and some countries are negotiating directly with foreign laboratories.

Vaccine diplomacy

At the end of December, the NGO Oxfam estimated that 70 poor countries would only be able to vaccinate one in ten inhabitants in 2021. Under these circumstances, China and Russia have once again shown themselves to be particularly attentive to the continent’s needs. As early as June, China’s number one, Xi Jinping, expressed his “generosity” at the China-Africa summit by promising African countries that they would benefit from advantageous conditions during the massive distribution of Chinese vaccines.

Unlike Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, China and Russia pride themselves on having developed vaccines that are accessible, can be stored in the refrigerator (making them easier to send and store in poorer regions) and, above all, are available.

The majority of the Maghreb countries, due to these numerous advantages, have already ordered several million doses. But concerns about the real effectiveness of Chinese vaccines are growing and Russian deliveries are slow. AstraZeneca’s vaccine, produced by the Indian laboratory Serum Institute of India, is also planning to supply 200 million doses as part of the Covax.


  Countries that have signed bilateral agreements with Laboratories. Map by The Africa Report.

Source: By The Africa Report



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