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A Better Normal for Africa

If Africa emerges from COVID-19 with old inequalities unaddressed and new opportunities unrealized, its policymakers will have failed. If they recognize that a better normal is possible, and act boldly to make it a reality, the continent will at least have something to show for the suffering of the past year.

ADDIS ABABA – Despite incurring high costs in terms of lost and foregone social and economic progress during the COVID-19 pandemic, Africa has so far avoided the kind of health and economic calamity that some anticipated when the crisis began. Like any crisis, the pandemic could represent an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a better future. But it won’t be easy.

First and foremost, the continent must get COVID-19 under control, which requires ensuring equitable access to vaccines. As it stands, some advanced economies are on track to achieve widespread vaccination within months. Yet Africa is struggling to secure the 90 million doses it needs to inoculate the highest-priority 3% of its population, including health-care workers and the most vulnerable groups.

This is clearly a humanitarian disaster in the making: every day those most at risk are denied access to COVID-19 vaccines is a day when more people die needlessly. But it is also an economic disaster: according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study, if the advanced economies continue to hoard vaccine doses, the global economy would suffer losses of more than $9 trillion in 2021.

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