Monrovia: As a new strain of COVID-19 ravages across the globe, Africa and poorer nations seem to be left behind to tackle the devastating pandemic. Liberia, like most poor nations, not only faces a dearth of healthcare infrastructures but is woefully lacking vaccines to fight the virus and mitigate its spread. In the wake of the rising spike in Corona infections and deaths, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called for the redistribution of surplus vaccines for voluntary licensing and waiver of International Property Rights and for the transfer of technology from the vaccine manufacturing pharmaceutical companies of the North to support the manufacturing of vaccine closer to the locus of need.
Making the call over the weekend when she delivered a Keynote address at a symposium and 60th birthday celebration in honor of UN Deputy Secretary Madam Amina Mohamed, held in Abuja, Nigeria, former President Sirleaf stated that, although much needs to be done in curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the most pressing need is vaccination.
“We know that a lot needs to be done and I will get to that later, but right now vaccination is the answer and timing is the key. With all the resource availability, the record shows that less than 13% of the global population has been vaccinated and in Africa the percentage is no more than 1%. The race is on, and the pace is quickened as the wealthy nations use sometimes unusual means to resolve the vaccination hesitancy that most countries face due to lack of confidence in the leadership,” Madam Sirleaf lamented.
While recognizing the fact that some responses are at hand, the former Liberian leader noted that such responses fall short of the demand for vaccines.
“President Biden of the United States and European nations have pledged, I believe, some 2 billion doses to be delivered by the end of 2022 but 7 billion is required. But this is still talk and promise because the latest information reaching me is that to date not more than 600 million doses have been delivered. The recent agreement initiated by Africa with the J&J company for a vaccine technology transfer hub to be located in South Africa is a step in the right direction, but we need support for more, for example similar hubs in other places such as Nigeria, Senegal, and other nations of the South,” Madam Sirleaf said, noting that there are other essential requirements to beat the virus – the need for adequate financing for the purchase of the vaccine and for other public goods such as therapeutics and diagnosis and a range of other material.
Madam Sirleaf further called on financial institutions to provide the adequate financing required to provide more vaccines to meet the need of poorer nations, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa and poorer regions of the world.
“For this purpose. I really cannot emphasize enough on the need for resolute and nimble leadership to overcome the pandemic and the other challenges we face. The International Monetary Fund has been exceptional through its visionary head, Kristalina Georgieva who is one of the examples of the type of leadership needed. She has not been afraid to shake the IMF from its normal cautious stances and has said that ‘vaccine policy is economic policy’. David Miliband and the World Bank as well as several European nations have also pitched in with commitment for financial support for the Act – A and the COVAX platform established to deliver vaccines and public goods to lower and middle-income countries,” Madam Sirleaf further averred.
Looking inward for solutions
While acknowledging the need for Western powers to do more in combating the deadly Coronavirus, former President Sirleaf however called on African nations to look inward for solutions in meeting the urgency of response.
“We should be clear that Africa must depend primarily on itself. And that is why the best response has come from Africa, first in early action through lockdowns and messaging to restrain the virus and the effective interventions to establish the COVAX platform. We owe much to the African Union designated Covid-19 leaders, Presidents Ramaphosa and Akufo-Addo. There are also others who stand out in the mobilization of resources to fight the pandemic, Strive Masiyiwa and Aliko Dangote from the private sector, Vera Songwe of UNECA with a strong call for the re-allocation of special drawing rights, Dr. John Nkengasong who has led the African Center for Disease Control to win the confidence and unprecedented financial support for the institution to prosper and expand its role,” Madam Sirleaf stated.
“Finally on this subject, as a Co-chair of the WHO commissioned Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, I must say that our report calls attention to the need for a two-track approach- the first is to tackle the current pandemic and the second, equally important, is to ensure that the world does not face another one. Our eight-month study, based on research and evidence, led to detailed recommendations under two overarching actions – a reset of the International System and the reform of the World Health Organization.
“And as we go into the future, we will find ourselves leaning on those institutions who will play pivotal roles going beyond the urgency of the crisis to ensure sustained effort – leadership at the United Nations, at the World Trade Organization, and the African Development Bank. Surely you recognize the role that has to be played by those Nigerian leaders who head those institutions and will be called upon and relied on to take Africa to the new level,” keynote speaker Sirleaf averred.