The Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, has been very critical, in a public forum, against the Western powers that have monopolized vaccines against the coronavirus. He was particularly concerned about vaccine nationalism in Europe and North America, where some countries have acquired more doses than they need.
The frantic race to acquire the anti-Covid vaccines is raging. Faced with the announced delay in delivery by some laboratories, countries such as France and Germany have put forward the idea of restricting the export of vaccines. A situation that is not the taste of Paul Kagame who denounces the blockage of the supply of several countries. “The rich and powerful nations rushed to block the supply of several vaccine candidates. Even worse, some people accumulate vaccines and buy far more doses than they need. This leaves African and other developing countries far behind in the vaccine queue, or not at all,” he said.
There are, according to Kagame, worrying signs of vaccine nationalism in Europe and North America. The pressure on political leaders to vaccinate all their citizens before sharing supplies with others is understandable. But he believes that forcing smaller or poorer countries to wait for everyone in the North to be supported is short-sighted.
According to him, delaying access to vaccines for citizens of developing countries is ultimately much more costly. “The pandemic will rage and paralyze the global economy.New changes may continue at a faster pace.The world risks reversing decades of progress in human development and overshadowing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.
In this context, he points out, the billions of dollars it would cost to distribute vaccines in developing countries are not particularly high, given the return on investment. “This would unlock global trade, which would benefit all trading nations on the long road to economic recovery that lies ahead. We need global value chains to be fully operational again and to include everyone,” he said.
In 2020, the world came together to provide additional fiscal space for developing countries through the G20 debt service suspension initiative. According to him, this has helped African governments pay for their Covid responses and provide additional social protection, preventing the worst outcomes. “We must not lose this spirit now and give in to an unfortunate erosion of global solidarity,” he says.
The Covax facility, run by the World Health Organization, was supposed to provide doses to 20% of the African population – from the start and at the same time as the richer countries. “However, almost two months after the first vaccines are given, it is still unclear when African countries will be able to start vaccinating people, although the first doses may begin to reach the continent later this month,” he said.
“What can we do concretely?” he asks. He said the rich world can help developing countries get the same fair prices they have already negotiated for themselves. One pharmaceutical company plans to charge $37 per dose for “small orders”. “Recently, one African country said it was asked to pay more than twice the price the European Union had negotiated for the same product,” he says, adding that in natural disasters, rising prices for essential supplies are illegal. “It should also not be tolerated for vaccines during a pandemic. If the prices are right and Africa is allowed to place orders, many countries on the continent would be willing and able to pay for themselves. But given the current market structure, they will need the active support of more powerful countries to do so,” he said.
The African Union and Afreximbank have established the African Medical Supplies Platform to help countries secure financing by providing up to $2 billion in advance commitment guarantees to manufacturers. The platform negotiated an initial order of 270 million doses, but, he says, it’s still a long way from the 60% coverage Africa needs to achieve some collective immunity, and it’s unclear when these supplies will be available.
Vaccine candidates from China and Russia are also available online and may be an alternative for some developing countries. However, says Kagame, the reality is that most countries will only be able to obtain vaccines approved by the World Health Organization. The WHO should accelerate emergency use approvals for Covid-19 vaccines in line with actions taken by key national regulators in Europe and North America.
“Africa does not expect charity. We have learned from the past. All we are asking for is transparency and fairness in access to vaccines, not ongoing protectionism.” He stressed that ensuring equitable access to vaccines worldwide during a pandemic is not just a moral issue, but an economic imperative to protect the well-being of people around the world. “But when will Africa get the protection it needs? If all lives are equal, why is access to vaccines not equal?” he concluded.