February 2, 2023

A WICKET WORLD: At the second COVID-19 summit holding today, richer countries should know that abandoning Africa, refusing to grant vaccine rights waivers, keeping all their vaccines for endless booster shots and failing to fight misinformation will keep COVID around for a very long time for all of us, rich or poor, black, white or brown people, all of us

On Monday 3 February, the Executive Board re-appointed Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti for a second term as WHO Regional Director for Africa. From left to right: WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti. Title of officials and WHO staff reflects their respective positions at the time the photo was taken.
On Monday 3 February, the Executive Board re-appointed Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti for a second term as WHO Regional Director for Africa. From left to right: WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti. Title of officials and WHO staff reflects their respective positions at the time the photo was taken.

The governments of Senegal, United States, Germany, Indonesia and Belize are co-hosting the second COVID-19 summit today, May 12, 2022, barely eight months after the first Global COVID-19 Summit was convened by the United States on September 22, 2021.

In a joint statement last month, the five governments announced that the virtual summit “will redouble our collective efforts to end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future health threats.”

“In advance of the May 12 Summit, we are calling on world leaders, members of civil society, non-governmental organizations, philanthropists, and the private sector to make new commitments and bring solutions to vaccinate the world, save lives now, and build better health security — for everyone, everywhere,” they said.

The full statement read, “The United States as first COVID Summit Chair, Belize, as CARICOM Chair; Germany, holding the G7 Presidency; Indonesia, holding the G20 Presidency; and Senegal as African Union Chair, are pleased to announce we will co-host the second Global COVID-19 Summit, which will be held virtually on May 12, 2022. The Summit will redouble our collective efforts to end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future health threats.
 
“This Summit follows the first Global COVID-19 Summit convened by the United States on September 22, 2021. In advance of the May 12 Summit, we are calling on world leaders, members of civil society, non-governmental organizations, philanthropists, and the private sector to make new commitments and bring solutions to vaccinate the world, save lives now, and build better health security — for everyone, everywhere.
 
“The emergence and spread of new variants, like Omicron, have reinforced the need for a strategy aimed at controlling COVID-19 worldwide. Together, we can mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and protect those at the highest risk with vaccinations, testing, and treatments, actions to minimize disruption to routine health services, and through support for the ACT-Accelerator multilateral mechanism. We know we must prepare now to build, sustain, and finance the global capacity we need, not only for emerging COVID-19 variants, but also future health crises. To help achieve these goals, we urge all countries and stakeholders to pledge to take urgent actions to create the systems we need to end the acute phase of COVID-19, save lives, and build better health security and health systems.
 
“The Summit will build on the themes and commitments made at the first Summit and will place an emphasis on supporting locally-led solutions to both immediate and long-term challenges, including:

  • Getting shots into arms;
  • Deploying tests and treatments, especially for the highest-risk populations;
  • Expanding and protecting the health workforce and minimizing disruptions to routine and essential health services;
  • Enhancing access to medical countermeasures, including research and development and scaling and diversifying local and regional manufacturing; and
  • Generating sustainable financing for pandemic preparedness, health security, and health systems 

“We look forward to another successful Summit to continue the international effort in the fight against COVID-19 and to advance global pandemic preparedness.”

In a call with reporters on Wednesday, senior U.S. administration officials repeated almost same objectives. But, but, is there anything to be gained by Africa from the summit?

What African can gain from the summit

The summit is holding as new COVID-19 cases in Africa continued to rise for the third consecutive week, with South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases reporting 10,017 new infections on Wednesday, the first time since January the institute has reported more than 10,000 new cases. The new surge is driven mainly by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants.

In its weekly epidemiology update released on Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that although new cases and deaths declined again globally last week (May 2 – May 8), in Africa, new infections were trending upward.

According to the WHO, while over 3.5 million cases and more than 12, 000 deaths were reported globally last week, representing decreases of 12% and 25% respectively, Africa reported an increasing trend for the third consecutive week with approximately 57,000 (+12%) new weekly cases and 166 deaths (+84%).

Leading the surge, South Africa reported 43,977 cases and 153 deaths from last week’s figures. Now, health authorities are warning that the country may be entering a fifth wave of infections starting during the southern hemisphere winter months in May or June. South Africa only exited its fourth wave in January.

Beyond South Africa, vaccination rates against COVID-19 in Africa remain low, with roughly 20 percent of the population fully vaccinated, according to data from the Africa CDC. In addition, the summit is holding as testing rates in Africa and around the world are plummeting, making it difficult to track the trajectory of the evolving virus.

The WHO estimates that low-income countries are testing at an average of just 5 tests per day per 100,000 people – far from the goal of 100 per day.

Earlier this week, some health leaders, including, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – Director-General, the World Health Organization; Dr Seth Berkley – CEO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; Dr Philippe Duneton – Executive Director, Unitaid; Dr Chris Elias – President, Global Development Division, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Sir Jeremy Farrar – Director, Wellcome; Dr Richard Hatchett – CEO, CEPI; Dr Bill Rodriguez – CEO, FIND; Catherine Russell – Executive Director, UNICEF; Peter Sands – Executive Director, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, argued that despite the significant progress made increasing coverage rates in lower-income countries, millions are still unvaccinated and exposed, with just over 15% of people in low-income countries having received a vaccine.

“Supporting country targets in light of the WHO goal of 70% coverage – especially prioritizing full coverage of at-risk groups – remains the best way to save lives, protect health systems and minimize cases of Long COVID. Access to effective new antivirals is limited by constrained supply and low testing rates, while medical oxygen and PPE shortages are still impacting many countries,” they wrote.

With low testing, low vaccination rate, rising cases amid new Omicron sub-variants of COVID-19, Africa seems to be once again in a very difficult situation. This is in addition to economic implications and the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which is driving up food prices and leading to potential hunger across Africa.

Funding will be critical

For Africa to catch up. funding would be critical. However, COVAX, which was set up to help global efforts for Africa to get vaccines, was already struggling even when attention was on the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, now, many other problems, including issues with delivery and COVID-19 misinformation, are making things even harder.

Africa’s biggest COVID-19 vaccines donor, the United States, is already struggling to get funding at home.

The Biden administration has asked Congress to authorize $22.5 billion in additional pandemic assistance, including $5 billion for global effort, but the money is yet to arrive as Democrats and Republicans continue to fight over it.

President Biden this week even asked for pandemic funding to be stripped out of a bill that sought to provide more assistance for Ukraine to fight Russia. That $40 billion in aid to Ukraine passed on Tuesday.

Michele Heisler, medical director at Physicians for Human Rights called it both “shameful and impudent that the United States is coming to this summit with no additional funds committed to support the global COVID-19 vaccine roll out.”

With no clear financial backing from the United States, a senior Biden administration official told reporters on Wednesday that there will be commitments from several governments, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany and others.

COVID-19 has proven time and time again that it does not respect borders and economic status, and that as long as one part of the world continues to struggle with the acute phase of the pandemic, everywhere is at risk.

Investing in and on Africa, providing the continent with the resources that it needs to boost testing, increase vaccination rates and fight misinformation is not only in the interest of Africa but it is in the interest of everyone else.


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