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A New Model for African Health

Despite inadequate international support and a lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines, African governments and regional institutions have acquitted themselves well in responding to the pandemic. The task now is to build on these successes, making “health for all” an overarching whole-of-government priority.

LONDON/ADDIS ABABA – For many people, the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in under a year marked the beginning of the end of the acute phase of the pandemic. But not for Africa. Eighteen months after the first vaccines were approved, just 16% of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated, owing largely to a lack of consistent international support in the acquisition and deployment of vaccines.

African regional institutions, meanwhile, have been world leaders in responding to pandemic-related challenges at the local level. For example, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has played a pivotal role in coordinating a continental pandemic strategy. The pan-African Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing has substantially increased testing capacity in 43 countries, providing more than 90 million test kits. And the African Union has formed a partnership with the Africa CDC, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and the African Export-Import Bank to create a digital platform for one-stop procurement of medical supplies.

But perhaps the most powerful example of Africa’s “common good” approach to the pandemic is the South African government’s partnership with the Africa CDC, the World Health Organization, and other stakeholders to expand low- and middle-income countries’ capacity to produce their own mRNA vaccines. At a time when some pharmaceutical giants in rich countries are hoarding technology, such efforts fill a critical need.