While Western countries are speeding ahead with their vaccination programmes, Africa and the rest of the global South are still lagging far behind. Not for too long if all goes well according to the World Health Organisation!
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic it seemed as though the entire world was navigating the same rough seas. Now, however, it appears that some countries are cruising in mega yachts, while poorer countries are paddling in leaking kayaks.
If all goes according to plan, things are about to change. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently announced that it will be setting up a technology transfer hub for producing mRNA, the latest vaccine technology currently used in Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. This technology transfer hub could see a number of vaccines manufactured between 9 and 12 months.
With the rest of the world moving fast with its vaccination programmes, COVID-19 threatens to become a third world disease. Currently, the continent is experiencing a devastating third wave which threatens the lives and wellbeing of millions of people. As it stands, a mere 1 percent of the continent's population has been vaccinated.
"Africa is in the midst of a full blown third wave. The sobering trajectory of surging cases should rouse everyone into urgent action. We've seen in India and elsewhere just how quickly COVID-19 can rebound and overwhelm health systems. So public health measures must be scaled up fast to find, test, isolate and care for patients and to quickly trace their contacts," said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has lauded the initiative, saying it has the potential to bridge the vaccine gap. "The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the full extent of the vaccine gap between developed and developing economies, and how that gap can severely undermine global health security. This landmark initiative is a major advance in the international effort to build vaccine development and manufacturing capacity that will put Africa on a path to self determination. South Africa welcomes the opportunity to host a vaccine technology transfer hub and to build on the capacity and expertise that already exists on the continent to contribute to this effort," said Ramaphosa.
If all goes according to plan, the initiative will go a long way in helping Africa address the inequalities caused by a lack of vaccines.
"But it's clear that in a crisis Africa cannot rely solely on imports of the vaccines. We must build that capacity - not only for Covid-19 vaccines but for other vaccines and medical products." Director-General of the @WHO @DrTedros #QatarEconomicForum pic.twitter.com/JJ7FOFBWNm
— Bloomberg Live (@BloombergLive) June 21, 2021