Maverick Citizen

HEALTH EMERGENCY

Southern Africa needs more vaccines now to overcome ‘extremely brutal’ third wave of Covid-19 infections, say activists

A nurse administers the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine during a Covid-19 public vaccination program at Wilkins Hospital, Harare, Zimbabwe, 24 March 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Aaron Ufumeli)

Southern African states are facing record-breaking Covid-19 numbers as the third wave of infections hits them all. Meanwhile, predictions estimate it will take decades for these countries to fully vaccinate their populations against Covid-19 unless the pace picks up. Dozens of civil society organisations have called on international and regional players to step up and assist.

A group of 28 civil society organisations has called for governments, businesses and philanthropists to increase their efforts to quicken and expand the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out in southern Africa.

Their call comes as a third wave of Covid-19 infections takes hold in the region.

The region accounts for 2.4 million of the continent’s 5.4 million Covid-19 cases. More than 69,000 of the continent’s 140,976 deaths have been recorded here. Within the region, South Africa has reported the most cases followed by Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique.

Countries including South Africa, Namibia and Zambia have been reporting their highest rates yet of new infections in the past few weeks, with South Africa averaging 12,000 new cases daily. Zambia has called this wave “unprecedented” and Namibia is in the grip of an oxygen shortage.

“The third wave has come with severity that most countries were not prepared for. So, the third wave is extremely brutal,” said Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director John Nkengasong on 24 June 2021.

“Let me put it bluntly, we are not winning this battle against the virus (in Africa) so it does not really matter to me whether the vaccines are from Covax or anywhere. All we need is rapid access to vaccines.”

Only 1.5% of the 2.7-billion Covid-19 vaccines administered globally have been given in African countries. No southern African countries, bar Mauritius and Seychelles, have administered single doses to more than 10% of their populations.

If Namibia continues administering only 2,698 doses a day as it has been, it will take another five years to reach herd immunity, estimates Amnesty International. This figure is 1,075 years for Zambia and 10 years for South Africa.

“A number of countries across southern Africa, including Namibia, South Africa and Zambia, are currently in the midst of what could be the deadliest wave yet. The lack of vaccines in a region with high levels of poverty and inequality means many people feel they are just waiting to die,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

vaccine
People wait to get a dose of the Indian Covaxin vaccine at Wilkins Hospital in Harare, Zimbabwe on 2 June 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Aaron Ufumeli)

Meanwhile, the leaders of the Southern African Development Community met in an extraordinary summit of heads of state and government in Maputo. The summit endorsed the proposal for a temporary waiver of certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and for an end to vaccine nationalism.

The responsibility to boost the roll-out went beyond regional actors — it was of international concern, the group said. High-income countries had to support calls for intellectual property rights to be done away with if they prevented any country from ensuring the right to health. In addition, they had to cease “hoarding” vaccines.

“This is a situation which cannot be addressed by hoarding vaccines because it affects us all. People travel across the globe so you cannot hoard vaccines and vaccinate your citizens and not others and think you’ll stop the spread of Covid-19,” explained Tiseke Kasambala, the leader of the Southern Africa Programme at Freedom House, on SABC News.

“There are 1.3 billion people living in Africa and we are receiving a minimum of the vaccines.”

This goes beyond a moral obligation — it is a human rights issue too. “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights talks about the right to health. The World Health Organization’s constitution talks about the legal obligation of states to provide access to health to citizens in an acceptable and timely manner,” she said.

And it was possible to achieve — an example was Covax, she said. This vaccine-sharing facility allowed low- and middle-income countries to access vaccines — however, the facility lacked funds and political support.

The 28 signatories are:

  1. Amnesty International
  2. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) — South Africa
  3. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa) — southern Africa
  4. Denis Hurley Centre, Durban — South Africa
  5. Zambia Civic Education Association — Zambia
  6. Zambian Governance Foundation for Civil Society — Zambia
  7. Gears Initiative Zambia — Zambia
  8. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition — Zimbabwe
  9. Green Institute
  10. Center for Democracy and Development (CDD) — Mozambique
  11. Emang Basadi — Botswana
  12. Transformation Resource Centre — Lesotho
  13. Southern Africa Network Against Corruption — South Africa
  14. Advancing Rights in Southern Africa programme at Freedom House — southern Africa
  15. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights — Zimbabwe
  16. Organisation pour le Developpement Intellectuel de Madagascar — Madagascar
  17. Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa (ACT-SA) — Zimbabwe
  18. Africa Human Rights Network Foundation (AHRN) — Tanzania
  19. Maison des Organisations de la Société Civile (MOSC)
  20. Anjouan Comoros
  21. Friends of Angola (FoA) — US & Angola
  22. Panos Institute Southern Africa  — southern Africa
  23. Catholic Commission For Justice and Peace — Lesotho
  24. International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
  25. Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) — Namibia
  26. Youth and Society (YAS) — Malawi
  27. International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) — South Africa
  28. Ditshwanelo — the Botswana Centre for Human Rights —   Botswana

Read their statement in full here. DM/MC

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