The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday deplored increasing COVID-19 vaccine nationalism and restrictions placed on exports by producing countries, which she described as a threat to Nigeria and other African countries.
She said, at a virtual conference with the theme: « Africa’s Vaccine Manufacturing for Health Security, » that of about 700 million doses so far administered, only 0.1 per cent went to the continent.
The African Union (AU) and Africa Centre for Disease Control organised the event.
Okonjo-Iweala said the global vaccine shortage and the resulting inequality in access were a challenge to Africa’s effort, adding that the scramble for vaccines has already set in, while COVAX, the alliance fighting for equal access, is occasionally outplayed, leaving low-income countries vulnerable.
She said of the more than 670 million doses administered as of last week, only 0.1 per cent had gone to people in low-income countries, with close to nearly a tenth of the world’s population.
She said: « Africa is the continent with the lowest rate of vaccine delivery, that’s 1.1 doses per 100 people. In North America, the figure is over 40. This is morally unconscionable and it’s a serious economic hit.
« The World Bank estimates each month of delay in vaccine access costs Africa $13.8 billion in lost output. Our WTO data shows that Africa merchandise export and import both fell by more than 8 per cent in 2020, more than the 5.3 per cent global average. »
According to her, Africa’s export is likely to grow by 8.4 per cent this year in line with the global average, though the projection relies on renewed demand for travel and oil, with imports estimated to grow by 5.5 per cent.
« So, between a steeper fall and a weaker rebound, Africa will have lost ground to other regions, particularly Asia. So, to boost trade and livelihoods, we need to get vaccines for everyone who needs them. I have said it before, the best global stimulus is equitable access to vaccines, » she stated.
On manufacturing, Okonjo-Iweala said Africa represents 16 per cent of the world’s population, but with less than 0.1 per cent of global vaccine production.
She added that this makes the continent vulnerable to export restrictions and has deprived the world of a more diversified vaccine production base.
While underscoring the need for more access to vaccines, she stated that Africa needs to boost its vaccine manufacturing capacity, adding that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA) will be critical in achieving the target.
She said open trade would remain critical for vaccine production, as some of the vaccines depend on inputs from several countries.
She added that without trade, the vaccines cannot be made and that an immediate solution has to be found for trade restrictions, new manufacturing capabilities and encouragement of automatic access to vaccines by countries.
Okonjo-Iweala urged Africa to set up a domestic financing framework for vaccine production for now and for future pandemics.
In his remarks, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that Africa needs to forge sustainable partnerships with the developed and developing world, with expertise in financing and investment.
According to him, Africa also needs a medical manufacturing facility of a continental scale, taking advantage of the large African market.
He called on the private and public sectors to work together on capacity building, strengthening its ability to respond to future pandemics.
Also, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda said vaccine equity could not be guaranteed by goodwill alone, adding that Africa needs to expand production capacity for vaccines and other essential medical products.
« It is important for Africa to forge important public/private partnerships for vaccine manufacturing on our continent. Africa has to move from being sorry for ourselves, which is the case today. We need to overcome that and move away from what has not worked, » he added.
In addition, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, expressed concern about the shortage of vaccines by African countries to cover all health workers or all at-risk groups, giving rise to shocking imbalances globally.
With over 700 million doses worldwide, the WHO chief stated that 87 per cent was going to rich countries and middle-income countries while low-income countries are left with a miserly share.
He said it was critical for manufacturing countries to remove obstacles and companies should share know-how, intellectual property and data in low-income countries.