The COVID-19 risk in Africa has been an issue of concern from the beginning of the global outbreak. The weak health care systems in most countries, poor regions with low sanitary structures, etc. are factors that could put the entire continent at risk. Contrary to the predictions of experts, the spread of coronavirus has been moderate, and expansion up to now has been slow but continuous, with the exception of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and South Africa, where cases are sharply rising (the latter with severe lockdown imposed days ago).

It is widely acknowledged that Africa needs an urgent plan for vaccination. In this respect, Western countries have created the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) initiative; 167 countries have signed up so far, covering nearly two-thirds of the global population. There are many companies working on the logistic aspects of the vaccination, which present particular difficulties in Africa, given the disseminated population with limited access that affects the manner and time of vaccine shipment for this titanic enterprise.

Effective immunization of the vast African population has recently been addressed in many scientific papers.  It seems clear that if this goal cannot be achieved, the global eradication of COVID-19 will remain very difficult. In this respect, medical journals Nature ( COVID-19 vaccines: how to ensure Africa has access, October 6, 2020) and The Lancet (read HERE) have approached the issue with great scientific rigor and have agreed in their conclusions.

The current situation in Africa

The current situation of the continuing spread of COVID-19 in Africa is serious, and as the article published in Nature adds, is compounded by the fact that “many nations in Africa are reeling from the worst locust plague in 50 years, and a terrible drought is predicted to occur in East Africa. A COVID-19 vaccine could at least help to mitigate this dire situation.” To achieve this aim, the new financing will be required to pay the billions of dollars for COVID‑19 vaccinations, including advance payments to secure supply. The author continues, “The Africa Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has committed to a vaccine-financing framework for Africa. This will allow pooled purchases of medical supplies and support for vaccine manufacture. Countries will issue promissory notes to Afreximbank, which will arrange about $4 billion in revolving credit to back orders from African suppliers that have been certified by Africa CDC.”

The article goes on to say that, “To vaccinate 60% of its population (the estimated minimum requirement for herd immunity), Africa will need about 1.5 billion doses of vaccine. (Its population is 1.2 billion, and most vaccine candidates require two doses.) The cost of the vaccine and of building systems and structures required for delivery is estimated at between $7 billion and $10 billion, according to Africa CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].” The director of the Africa CDC, John Nkengasong, says that time is of the essence if 60% of the population is to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the next two to three years: “If the delay takes us four to five years, then the virus will be endemic in our communities.”

Africa is adequately preparing for this daunting task

So far, he says, “[i]n partnership with others, Africa CDC has set up the Africa Medical Supply Platform, a system to coordinate procurement that can be adapted for vaccine distribution. Working with national leaders, we have deployed thousands of community health workers and emergency responders across the continent to manage the test, trace and treat strategy. They will support the vaccination efforts of the African Union’s member states and train others to do so. Another task is to work with existing distribution systems to deliver vaccines efficiently. For instance, refrigerated bottles of Coca-Cola are available in even the remotest areas of Africa. Our health systems should learn from, and even partner with, such as commercial systems. We also need innovative technology to track distribution.”

The CDC director and coauthors conclude with a call for solidarity: “The road ahead will be hard. The Africa Task Force for Coronavirus has been meeting weekly since February. Seven working groups focus on aspects including laboratory diagnosis and viral subtyping, case management, surveillance, risk communication, infection prevention and control, supply-chain management and scientific standards. Africa is seizing this opportunity to build up its public-health preparedness and response infrastructure at every level — continental, regional, national and local. We hope that the rest of the world will follow our lead and embrace cooperation and multilateralism to overcome this pandemic and future ones.”

The Lancet article is more skeptical, the authors concluded “Whether existing initiatives will translate into an effective and universal COVID-19 vaccination program for Africa remains to be seen.”

Justice and solidarity of the southern countries

In our opinion, the solidarity and concrete help that rich countries are providing to Africa so far is very encouraging, we hope it will continue like this for the good of the African population and the effective eradication of COVID 19.