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WHO calls for vaccine equality as Africa lags behind

By Bo Leung in London | | Updated: 2021-09-15 03:52
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The World Health Organization has called for fairer COVID-19 vaccine distribution for African nations as the continent lags behind on administering doses.

The WHO is aiming to help every country vaccinate at least 40 percent of its population by the end of the year and 70 percent of the world's population by the middle of next year.

But so far, only two countries in Africa have reached the 40 percent target, the lowest in any region, said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, during a news briefing on Tuesday focusing on Africa and vaccine equality.

He reiterated that it's not because African countries do not have the capacity or experience to roll out vaccines but that "they have been left behind by the rest of the world".

"More than 5.7 billion doses have been administered globally, but only 2 percent of those have been administered in Africa," Tedros said. "This leaves people at high risk of disease and death exposed to a deadly virus against which many other people around the world enjoy protection."

He warned that not only will this affect the people of Africa, but also the rest of the world, if unfair vaccine distribution continues.

"The longer vaccine inequity persists, the more the virus will keep circulating and changing, the longer the social and economic disruption will continue, and the higher the chances that more variants will emerge that render vaccines less effective," he said.

COVAX, a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, has so far shipped more than 260 million doses to 141 countries.

But Tedros said the initiative is not without its challenges, such as "manufacturers prioritizing bilateral deals and many high-income countries tying up the global supply of vaccines".

On Monday and Tuesday, the African COVID-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, or AVAT, met with partners from COVAX to find a solution on the way forward to obtain vaccines.

"Vaccine inequity is a solvable problem," Tedros said. "We call on manufacturers to prioritize COVAX and AVAT; we call on countries that have already achieved high coverage levels to swap their near-term vaccine deliveries with COVAX and AVAT."

He also urged manufacturers to facilitate the sharing of technology, know-how and intellectual property to support regional vaccine manufacturing.

Strive Masiyiwa, the African Union's Special Envoy for COVID-19, said AVAT and COVAX will continue to work closely to achieve vaccination targets.

Some 400 million single-shot doses have been secured for the next 12 months, Masiyiwa said, adding that their target is to vaccinate 60 percent of Africa's population of 1.3 billion people.

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