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Africa turns to Russia, China for COVID-19 vaccine

JOHANNESBURG

China and Russia taking advantage of delays by Western countries to supply vaccines to Africa, says, expert.

Abandoned by rich Western nations, African countries are largely looking to China and Russia to get doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

While Morocco, Algeria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and Equatorial Guinea have already received Chinese supplies, the African Union (AU) has said it is planning to acquire 300 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to inoculate people across the continent.

Kenya and Guinea are in talks with both countries to procure the jabs. Nigeria and Algeria have received doses from both China and Russia.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Iqbal Jassat, an official at the Johannesburg-based Media Review Network advocacy group, said Western countries have been hoarding vaccines, leaving poorer countries little option but to seek alternative sources.

He said the countries which got vaccines from China and Russia were the first to start inoculating their population.

For instance, Algeria launched a vaccination campaign after it received the first batch of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine in late January. Egypt too started vaccinations after it got China’s Sinopharm vaccine around the same time.

For want of resources, most of the countries in sub-Saharan African countries are awaiting supplies from COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) – a global alliance led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“COVID-19 has among others brought into sharp focus the global inequalities and the huge chasm between rich and poor. The delay in inoculation also demonstrates huge economic disparities especially between the North and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Jassat.

He said that China and Russia seem to have benefited from the delays of western countries to supply drugs to Africa, which were themselves hit hard and busy securing millions of doses for their populations.

At the last year’s China-Africa summit Chinese President Xi Jinping had assured African countries that they would benefit once China starts manufacturing vaccines.

Easy logistics

According to media reports, both Chinese and Russian vaccines can be stored in ordinary refrigerators, unlike those manufactured by western pharmaceutical companies which need extreme cold temperatures.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said last month that his country will provide vaccines to 19 African countries.

Being Africa’s largest trading partner, Beijing has offered millions of loans and development aid to the continent.

“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China and Africa have worked in solidarity to fight against the epidemic, a testament to our brotherhood,’’ Wang said in a statement after the State Councilor and Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi embarked on a five-country tour of the continent in January.

During the visit, Wang assured China would supply the COVID-19 vaccine and also help in economic recovery in the post-pandemic period.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country was still negotiating with manufacturers. He complained that richer nations have used their muscle to buy millions of doses.

South Africa had procured 1 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute in India on Feb. 1. But halted its use after a new study revealed the vaccine was less effective against the South African variant of the virus.

The country then opted for Johnson and Johnson and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

South Africa has the highest number of infections in the continent, reporting over 1.5 million cases and over 50,000 deaths. It has so far vaccinated tens of thousands of health care workers and will soon start vaccinating its population.

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