Globally recognised medical health specialist, Doctor Omotuyi Mebawondu, led the weekly e-Discourse of Platforms Africa, a frontline e-Community of intellectuals, opinion leaders and policy moulders across the continent, where he opened up on why Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and other nations on same sub-regions with them should be worried now on COVID-19 more than ever before. The interview session was moderated by Accra, Ghana-based veteran journalist and accomplished administrator, Mr. Francis KOKUTSE. Excerpts;
How is Africa faring during this on-going second wave of COVID-19?
Worldwide, there are more than 111 million cases of Covid 19, with 2.5 million plus death and about 22.5 million currently infected (those that can still transmit the disease). Africa has 3.8 million cases and about 100,000 deaths. Morocco, S Africa, Tunisia, Egypt and Ethiopia are topping the numbers. With the second wave, we peaked at 22,000 infection per day.
We are now confronted with mutant strains worsened by poor public health systems, lower capacity to test, and opaqueness on the part of governments..Tanzania as a case in point
The gateway countries with significant international contacts are leading the cases.
The challenge of conflicts across Africa, poor economies, are also contributing to the bad outlook of the second wave which seems to spread easily.
The South African variant of the virus is reported to be even more threatening to the Pfizer vaccine efficacy. Why should it be so?
The virus mutates continually.This is the problem for now.
In this case, the antibody protection from Pfizer vaccine has been reduced by about 2/3. The mutant strain is in about 40 countries now. The mutation is in the spike protein used by the virus to enter human cells. The mutant strains 50% more contagious and can cause more severe cases. But the vaccine will still prevent manifestation of severe illnesses.
Then, should Africa be worried over the danger of on-going COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy?
Africa should be concerned and take cogent actions. Out of more than 200 million vaccines given so far, developed world took more that 60%. In Africa, only Algeria has taken 0.00007%!
What is means is that we are left alone in the cold. The pragmatic decision is how do we get vaccines for Africans? What type of vaccines? What cost?
Faced with the the option of no vaccine, countries must grab anyone available.
We saw US Biden pledging USD 4 billion to help poorer countries, but he is still bogged down to vaccinating more American. Russia and China have only done just 2 to 3 % of vaccination at home, but are shipping vaccines to Africa for geopolitical influence and soft power. Same with India. So what are we ready to give to get vaccines from trio of Russia, China and India.?
Serious issue indeed.
Serbia is ahead in Vaccination in Europe because of contention between China and Russia who shipped more doses of vaccines to the Balkan country.
This is just by the way, how come Africa does not have facilities for producing vaccines?
We are behind because we are yet to realize that the war of the future is no more kinetics. Influences are pushed from drive in science and innovation.
We have weak health system. Africa Center for Disease control is not leveraging on our research institutions. Government is not funding researches.
The WHO AFRO is short of funds to do surveillance.
The issue is simple
At the beginning of development of the vaccines, serious countries committed money like the Warp Speed Program of US where Donald Trump gave 2.5 billion dollars to Pfizer. In addition, many other countries signed Advanced Purchase Agreement Contracts and paid advance.
Even Adah Poonawallah who owns Serum Institute of India stated building that factory as far back as March 2020. People thought he was crazy.
Now, all the Pfizer vaccine production for 2021 has been bought. Africa and poor countries have to rely on WHO Covax. We were nor involved actively in vaccine negotiations.
As at the last report, no African nation could get Pfizer vaccine believed to be the most effective. What is your reaction to this?
Let a be clear, doubters are always with us
Vaccine hesitancy and outright refusal will not go away. The leading countries in vaccine hesitancy are Russia, Italy, France, USA which is as high as 56%
The government needs to counter the negative narratives using the community leaders to pass the right info.
What we are witnessing is poor info management.
The fight against science is seen in every country, religion, race and color.
Up till now, there are many Americans who are Flat Earthers – believing that the earth is flat.
Very true. In fact, last night l met an academic who still believed the vaccines were meant to depopulate Africa.
The UK varriant is spreading like a widefire across the World. As at the last count, the variant has spread to over 50 countries. But the borders of many African nations are still left wide open. Why do you think many leaders do not have the courage to publicly announce border closure against the UK?
There are obviously economic considerations to some of these decisions.
But on our own side, there are credibility issues. Many of African big men are tied to Europe. They don’t want to cut that off by banning flights.
We just need to take bold decisions.
In the face of people dying, should Africa leaders use economic considerations to stop the spread of the UK Variant?
There seems to be a lot of doubt amongst African leadership and confusion on how to manage the pandemic.
In my country, Nigeria, a state governor categorically stated that Covid 19 is a scam. In Tanzania, the President does not believe in Covid 19.
How do you think such view will influence their decision in public space?
Finally, What is the way forward on the vaccines? And on border management?
We need to improve on border surveillance. We have to assure the integrity of our testing. Collaboration and common groud-norm on handling the pandemic are also important . We need to do more testing also.
African Center for Disease Control, Africa-based research institutions must seek collaboration in epidemic preparedness and vaccine developments. AU and African governments must drive Funds for Future Epidemic Preparedness
We must invest in Health Literacy as the cheapest means of good health.
Doctor Omotuyi Mebawondu spoke during the prestigious Platforms Africa e-Discourse on Saturday, February 20, 2021