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Africa one of the main battlefields for vaccine diplomacy

First World first, Third World last

By Ricky Browne

There is an ongoing battle now on the vaccine diplomacy front, with China, Russia and India all competing to provide developing countries with vaccines to combat the Covid-19 disease. Africa is one of the main battlefields.

As the calls of ‘vaccine apartheid’ get louder, will the worlds leading democracies be seen to fall on the wrong side of history?

Russia’s Sputnik V is doing more than just protecting against Covid-19

Russia has made some inroads with its Sputnik V vaccine, India with its locally-produced AstraZeneca vaccine and China with its Sinopharm vaccine.

Lagging behind in this vaccine diplomacy are developed states such as the United Kingdom, United States and the European Union, which are focussed on first protecting their own populations before letting excess vaccines flow out to other countries.

‘First World first’ seems to be the battle cry for many of these countries – a policy which may weaken their soft power in the developing world if not handled carefully.

So developing countries which have close relations with anyone of those three countries — India, China and Russia — are now benefitting more than countries which are tied to the ‘First World’ powers.

Africa barely registers in its rate of vaccination. Map: Our World in Data

Africa is one of the main battlefields – a continent that China had been making some significant inroads, quite literally, by the construction of infrastructure at what appears to be very good rates.

Africa barely registers on a recent map from Our World in Data, showing only Morocco as having made any significant progress in vaccinating its people.

The Chinese vaccines have not yet been approved by the World Health Organization, but that hasn’t prevented the country from promoting their use both within China and elsewhere.

The latest African country to benefit from the Chinese vaccine is Zimbabwe – a country that has become increasingly isolated, and which has looked increasingly to China for development support.

On Thursday (February 18) Zimbabwe’s Vice President and Minister of Health Constantino Chiwenga,  became the first person in the southern African country to be inoculated with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.

Zimbabwe’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, holds up his vaccination certificate
Photo: AFP/Jekesai NJIKIZANA

Earlier in the week Zimbabwe had received 200,000 doses of the vaccine from China.

Despite Chiwenga saying that the health ministry had done “all scientific processes” to vet the jab, many in Zimbabwe are unimpressed.

A group of human rights lawyers have noted that the government has started to vaccinate people while at the same time conducting clinical trials of the vaccine.

“Many lives would be put to risk as they may be victims to irreversible side effects,” the lawyers said in a protest letter.

Neighbouring South Africa also started its vaccination programme, one day before Zimbabwe. The country has been relying on the newer Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was one of the first to receive the vaccine.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa receives the Johnson and Johnson vaccine

The country says it has 80,000 doses of the vaccine, and has secured nine million in total, with another 20 million doses coming from Pfizer. The country had already received one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but put its roll out on hold, when it reported that the vaccine did not perform well on a South African strain of the disease.

One of the first countries in Africa to start vaccinating its people was Guinea, which in December received 25 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia – hardly enough to register, though its octogenarian President was no doubt happy to have made the short list.

But the only African countries that register on the Our World in Data list of countries that have started the vaccination process are Algeria and Morocco.

Algeria in North Africa has vaccinated less than 0.01 percent of its population – but enough to make the list, if only just.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, receives the COVID-19 vaccine at the Royal Palace in Fes, on January 28, 2021. Photo: Moroccan Royal Palace via AP

Neighbouring Morocco has done much better, having vaccinated 0.52 percent of its population by February 17. The country has been using AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines. It had approved emergency use of both vaccines earlier in January.

The country expects to get 66 million doses of vaccines, which will cover 80 percent of its population of 35 million people. It plans to start producing the Chinese vaccine later this year.

The island states Mauritius and the Seychelles, both in the Indian Ocean and considered to be a part of Africa, recently received a donation of AstraZeneca vaccines from India.

Meanwhile, the US, UK and Europe (and perhaps other countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan) remain most concerned about their own citizens. But they are in danger of losing some of their soft-power, as India, Russia and China compete to show their largesse in Africa and elsewhere.

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