Africa Must Step Up! Reflections from WHS Regional Meeting 2021

By Charles Ssemugabo and Rawlance Ndejjo

The World Health Summit regional meeting in Kampala, Uganda (June 27-30), which was first slated to take place end of April 2020 has just been concluded. The reason for the postponement of the meeting in 2020 was, you guessed it, the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, one year later, the pandemic is still far from over, with the host country, Uganda currently hit by its second wave of COVID-19. The latest wave seems largely fueled by the (more infectious and deadly) Delta variant. The current peak of cases in Uganda is over 400% the one registered during the first wave in December 2020, and the country has been under a 42-day total lockdown since June 18. The summit thus required special permission to have a few delegates on site.

Against this backdrop, it was thus not surprising that the prominent message from the summit was the need for vaccine equity as many countries in the global south have so far been left behind in accessing the life-saving intervention. Just 1.1% of the African population have received COVID-19 vaccination, mostly through the COVAX facility. A stark comparison was made between the developed countries of which many are currently opening up, having ramped up vaccinations for their populations, while at the same time many countries especially in Africa are locking up (again) amidst a third COVID-19 wave that is sweeping the continent. “A pandemic fueled by inequity”, vaccine ‘nationalism’ and ‘apartheid’ were some of the terms being used. The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus re-echoed the need for sharing vaccines now and investing in local production, stressing also that Africa needs to build its own capacity to manufacture COVID-19 and other vaccines.

Amidst the acknowledgement of the unfairness of the rich world in hoarding vaccines and neglecting Africa, a consensus emerged on the need for Africa to step up its capacity to deal with, and solve its problems. “Selfishness in the world is bad but also good to wake up Africans.” the Ugandan president, H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, remarked at the opening of the summit. He continued “Africa should not depend on others for vaccines and essential commodities. We need to invest in Africa. Africa has fought Ebola; it can address its problems.”

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