IMF warns without international vaccine support to Sub-Saharan Africa, Covid-19 could become permanent

“Without an accelerated vaccine rollout – or swift, cooperative, and equitable global distribution,” the lives and livelihoods of people in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as those around the world will continue to be under threat, as new variants could emerge from successive waves of Covid-19 in the region, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned on Thursday in its updated Regional Economic Outlook For Sub-Saharan Africa report

While other regions look to step out of the shadow of the pandemic as early as mid-year, “Sub-Saharan Africa is still in the grip of a health and economic emergency,” IMF said. “With limited purchasing power and few options, many countries will be struggling to simply vaccinate their frontline workers [‘(health care providers, teachers, and so on)’] this year, and few will achieve widespread availability before 2023.”

The region currently faces a severe shortage of vaccines: According to the Africa CDC, COVAX has delivered just 16 million vaccine doses to 31 Africa countries, mainly the AstraZeneca vaccine, the supply of which is now in doubt.

Meanwhile, the administration and delivery of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been temporarily halted as governments study its potential side effects. The company had at the end of March reached an agreement with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to supply 220 million of its single-shot doses to all African Union (AU) member states with the possible 400 million total. The company said delivery would “begin in the third quarter of 2021.”

The IMF recommends, in part, that, “Restrictions on the dissemination of vaccines or medical equipment should be avoided,” COVAX “should be fully funded, and channels should be put in place to ensure that excess doses in wealthy countries are redistributed quickly.”

Although the second pandemic wave has subsided, there is now concern about the prospect of a third wave as many countries in the region enter the winter season. But according to the IMF, countries in the region increasingly lack sufficient resources to manage spikes in Covid-19 cases: “Most countries entered the second wave in a much worse position than the first, with depleted fiscal and monetary buffers.” Measures taken to prevent the spread of the virus will continue to diverge, as countries weigh spending priorities.

For many countries, the cost of vaccinating 60 percent of their populations alone could amount to a 50 percent increase in health spending, according to the IMF.

The more resources that go towards fighting the pandemic, the less, the IMF warns, go towards addressing other health issues. Moreover, as the pandemic persists, countries will struggle to “boost and rebuild their economies while simultaneously dealing with repeated outbreaks.” Eventually, regional economies in some places could be permanently scarred; already, “disruptions to education have jeopardized the prospects of a generation of schoolchildren” – with potential long-term consequences for people and economies.

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