YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – President Joe Biden was scheduled to host a Global COVID-19 Summit on Wednesday under the theme: “Ending the Pandemic and Building Back Better.”
The summit comes as Africa is seeing the COVAX vaccine sharing plan slashing its planned delivery of jabs to the continent by 150 million this year, meaning Africa will be almost 500 million doses short of the global year-end target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of its population.
The continent continues to see rising infections, with nearly six million cases and 142,218 deaths recorded across 47 countries as of September 21, according to the WHO.
The international humanitarian agency of the U.S. bishops, Catholic Relief Services, says wealthier countries need to deliver on their promises to help the developing world.
“For example, according to the World Health Organization, high-income countries have promised to donate more than 1 billion doses, but less than 15 percent of those doses have materialized,” said Emily Doogue, CRS’s Technical Director for Health.
“Wealthier countries need to cede their place in line to guarantee a speedy delivery to the countries that need the vaccines the most,” she told Crux.
Amid concerns about vaccine hesitancy, Doogue said public authorities can rely on faith-based organizations to get the right message across to the public.
“We are urging the U.S. government and national ministries of health to do more to involve local faith-based groups and faith leaders to help disseminate accurate information on the vaccine. Local faith leaders are trusted by their communities. Therefore, they can be successful messengers on vaccine safety and effectiveness,” she said.
Following are excerpts of Crux’s email conversation with Doogue.
Crux: What must summit participants do to ensure vaccine equity, especially as it pertains to Africa?
While wealthier nations like the U.S. have made welcome commitments to donate vaccines to low-income countries, far more needs to be done to make sure that vaccines are getting into arms.
First, we need to see wealthier countries immediately deliver on their promises. For example, according to the World Health Organization, high-income countries have promised to donate more than 1 billion doses, but less than 15 percent of those doses have materialized. Wealthier countries need to cede their place in line to guarantee a speedy delivery to the countries that need the vaccines the most.
Second, we need a global strategy that gets specific about shipment deadlines, production, etc. The absence of such a strategy hampers our ability to adequately tackle the virus. The U.S. must quickly step up its leadership in this regard.
In some African countries, there are fears that COVID is an invention intended to limit population growth. What kind of messaging is needed to turn people away from conspiracy theories?
Vaccine hesitancy because of misinformation or disinformation is one of our biggest challenges in ending the pandemic — both in the U.S. and abroad. In fact, the lack of vaccine acceptance in certain African countries has caused governments, such as Malawi, Senegal and South Sudan, to have to destroy expired doses. We are urging the U.S. government and national ministries of health to do more to involve local faith-based groups and faith leaders to help disseminate accurate information on the vaccine. Local faith leaders are trusted by their communities. Therefore, they can be successful messengers on vaccine safety and effectiveness.
What has CRS been doing across Africa to help in the fight against COVID?
Globally, 21 million people have been reached through CRS’ on-the-ground efforts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and to bolster the capacity of local health responders. For example, in Uganda, CRS helped transform a sports stadium into a treatment center. The stadium will be expanded into a central operations center for patient care. In Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda, CRS supports efforts to bolster the vaccination rollout and strengthen COVID‑19 treatment services. In Zimbabwe, CRS supports Catholic health facilities with the provision of personal protective equipment and the dissemination in communities of key information on COVID‑19 prevention and vaccination. These are just a few examples of the work we’re doing in Africa. We will continue to do this type of work for as long as the pandemic continues.
What have been the obstacles?
Our top concerns include vaccine hesitancy and access issues. But we’re also extremely concerned that local health systems in low-income countries cannot handle such large vaccine rollouts without additional support. According to the CARE report, “Our Best Shot: Women Frontline Health Workers in other countries are keeping you safe from COVID-19,” for every $1 a country or donor government invests in vaccine doses, they need to invest $5 in delivering the vaccine. This includes the costs associated with funding, training, equipping, and supporting health workers—especially women—who administer vaccines. Further, vaccination campaigns will have to include community outreach. The campaigns will also need to connect communities to health services while building the trust necessary for individuals to get vaccines. Until these challenges are addressed, the pandemic will drag on.