By Kester Kenn Klomegah
China and Africa have long decades of interaction. The relationship has changed over the years and Chinese outreach to Africa has often been viewed with deep appreciation, especially helping to overcome development challenges.
As expectedly, China appears moving steadily to deliver on its pledge by offering manufactured vaccines aim at eradicating the coronavirus in Africa. Simultaneously, China is strengthening its health diplomacy with Africa, and experts describe it as an additional step towards deepening further its geopolitical and economic influence in the continent.
Undoubtedly, the Chinese Sinopharm vaccines are increasingly becoming popular among African countries. Deliveries have already been made in Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Chinese Foreign Ministry has indicated that China would help 19 African countries as part of its commitment to making vaccines global public goods. Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, said on February 22 that China would also support enterprises to export Covid-19 vaccines to African nations that urgently need, recognize, and have authorized the emergency use of Chinese vaccines.
The aid is a clear manifestation of the China-Africa traditional friendship, Wang Wenbin said, adding assertively “China will continue to provide support and assistance within its capacity and in accordance with the needs of Africa.” Further to that, China welcomes and supports France and other European and American nations in providing vaccines to help Africa fight the pandemic.
In the Maghreb region for instance, Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with more than 100 million, has prepared 40 vaccination points and plans to increase that number after the arrival of more vaccine batches, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said early March.
Egypt has received 350,000 doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) in two batches since December, in addition to 50,000 doses of a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca in February.
On Feb. 24, the Egyptian Drug Authority approved Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for emergency use. Egypt’s Prime Speed Medical Services said it had obtained the right to provide Sputnik V in Egypt in a statement to the stock exchange, without giving details.
In West African region, Sierra Leone became the latest African country to receive 200,000 coronavirus vaccine donation, and 201,600 pieces of disposable needles and syringes from the Chinese government. According to reports, the consignment arrived at the Lungi Airport on February 25, and was received by a high-powered government delegation.
Down in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe will buy an additional 1.2 million vaccine doses from China at a preferential price, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesman said, after Beijing agreed to give more free doses to the southern African country. Zimbabwe has already begun vaccinations after receiving a donation of 200,000 doses from the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
Chinese Ambassador Guo Shaochun said in a statement that his country had decided to double its donation of vaccines to 400,000 as part of its “solidarity and action” with Zimbabwe.
Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba said the government, which had already bought 600,000 doses from Sinopharm and would increase its purchases from China. “Zimbabwe is also procuring more vaccines from China at a preferential price. Zimbabwe is set to purchase another 1.2 million doses from China,” Charamba wrote on Twitter.
It targets 10 million vaccinations as the country has been hit with increasing infections. More than two thirds of Zimbabwe’s 35,910 coronavirus infections and 1,448 deaths have been recorded this year, according to a Reuters tally.
Separately, on February 24, neighboring Mozambique also received 200,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine donated by China. The delivery of the first consignment, ferried to Mozambique by an aircraft of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, was witnessed by Prime Minister, Carlos Agostinho do Rosário, Minister of Health, Armindo Tiago, Chinese Ambassador Wang Hejun and other senior government officials.
Speaking at the delivery ceremony, held at the Maputo Air Base, Agostinho do Rosario thanked the government and the people of China for the donation of the first batch consists of 200,000 doses and the same number of syringes. “The swift delivery of the vaccine mirrors the determination and commitment of the leaders of both countries to ensure the well-being of the Mozambican people,” the Prime Minister said, stressing that the government has adopted a vaccination strategy that attaches priority to high risk groups particularly health professionals on the front-line of the fight against Covid-19.
Chinese Ambassador Wang Hejun, however pledged to strengthen the cooperation between the two countries in the health field and reaffirmed his country’s openness to assist Mozambique in acquiring more vaccines.
He said the Mozambican health system is currently under increasing pressure, but believed the first batch of the vaccine will certainly make an enormous difference. The vaccines are currently available from two Chinese companies, Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech. The vaccine that arrived in Maputo was from Sinopharm. A major advantage of the Sinopharm vaccine is that it does not need to be stored at ultra-low temperatures. It can be kept at normal refrigeration temperatures of two to eight degrees Celsius.
Indeed, Indians are also speeding with donations to the African continent. The Indian government has promised to send Mozambique 100,000 doses of the vaccine developed by the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Still in the southern Africa, Namibian officials said Beijing would donate 100,000 doses vaccine while India promised a donation of 30,000 shots to Windhoek.
In order to sustain relations and as part of a “bilateral cooperation” efforts, Portugal plans to donate 5% its excess to a group of Portuguese-speaking African countries. With a population of just over 10 million people, Portugal is entitled to 35 million vaccine doses this year under an EU-coordinated purchasing scheme, mostly for double-dose inoculation, leaving it with millions of extra shots.
The 5% share would make up 1.75 million doses. The group of countries is comprised of Portugal’s former African colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome and Principe.
Besides getting vaccines through the African Union, a number of African countries by bilateral agreements will purchase vaccines directly from China, Russia and India. For example, five (5) African countries (Algeria, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea and Tunisia) have registered the Sputnik V, which was developed by Russia’s Gamaleya National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology.
The African Union and Africa CDC have joined efforts for the ongoing vaccine readiness work through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team. The AU has secured vaccines through the COVAX facility for Africa. WHO has listed three (3) vaccines for emergency use, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out through COVAX. The Group of Seven (7) leaders have committed US$4.3 billion to fund the equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments. European Union has also contributed an additional 500 million euros to COVAX.
The COVAX vaccine facility – which pools financial resources and spreads its bets across vaccine candidates – has handed over the first of 337 million doses it has allocated to around 130 countriesfor the first half of the year. COVAX receives around 90 percent of its funds from G-7 countries and the EU, but none from China, India or Russia.
By March 2, as reported by the GhanaWeb, the number of African countries to have received vaccine doses are the following:
- South Africa – Johnson and Johnson (J&J)
- Rwanda – Pfizer and Moderna (reportedly)
- Egypt – Sinopharm
- Morocco – AstraZeneca/Sinopharm
- Seychelles – AstraZeneca/Sinopharm
- Mauritius – AstraZeneca
- Algeria – Sputnik V
- Zimbabwe – Sinopharm
- Sierra Leone – Sinopharm
- Equatorial Guinea – Sinopharm
- Senegal – Sinopharm
- Ghana – AstraZeneca/Serum Institute of India (COVAX)
- Ivory Coast – AstraZeneca (COVAX)
- Nigeria – AstraZeneca (COVAX)
- Guinea – Sputnik V (Experimental basis)
- Mozambique – Sinopharm.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization has acknowledged that the pandemic has struck at a time of rapid transformation for Africa. “We cannot and must not see health as a cost to be contained. Quite the opposite: health is an investment to be nurtured – an investment in productive population, and in sustainable and inclusive development,” he explained.
According to Adhanom Ghebreyesus, it takes a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach, and added that “many African countries have low levels of coverage of health services, and when health is at risk, everything is at risk.”
Since April last year, World Health Organization and its partners have been working through the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator for the equitable distribution of vaccines as global public goods. As already known, so far around 200 million doses of vaccine have been administered, but unfortunately most of them in the world’s richest countries.
WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic in March 2020. Since then, more than 110 million cases have now been reported to this organization, and almost 2.5 million people have lost their lives. The overall number of Covid-19 cases in Africa currently stands more than 3.8 million late February, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.