Ensuring Africa’s access to COVID-19 vaccines is critical for containing the pandemic. Global emergencies demand global responses, and Africa cannot be left out.
We join civil society, governments and institutions that ask for it: It is right to suspend the patent on vaccines.
A global pandemic is happening and vaccination doses are not enough, here and in Africa. To date, Covax, the initiative aimed to provide vaccines to poor countries, has enough doses for only 5% of the 1.3 billion people on the African continent. More doses are needed. The suspension of the patent would allow the various production centers (India and Brazil in particular) to increase quantities, thus dampening the vaccine market. And it is urgent to avoid the development of new variants that risk frustrating current vaccines.
A vaccination program is clearly imperative there as well: not only is it the right thing to do, it will also help ensure everyone’s wellbeing, as it is the only way to put an end to the spread of this virus and its variants.
And the first vaccines are now on their way. Just days ago, Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosário enthusiastically announced the arrival of the first 200,000 doses of vaccines to Mozambique. Ghana has received 600,000, and Senegal 200,000, marking the start of a more hopeful period for the continent, which will require at least 1.3 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 in order to ensure a sufficient level of immunity among its population.
Now these doses must be transformed into “actual shots in the arm”, first and foremost for our many local colleagues, doctors, nurses, midwives and health support staff (for example, administrators, drivers and cleaners). As we’ve seen in Italy, these individuals are the core of health systems everywhere, selflessly putting themselves on the front line and at high risk of exposure to the virus as they work to combat its effects on the sick.
And there are so many of them, starting with those nearest to us: the colleagues, from doctors to community health workers, with whom we work side by side in 23 hospitals, 127 districts and numerous peripheral health facilities. Altogether there are around 20,000 of them in the African countries where CUAMM maintains a presence, accounting for 5% of the continent’s total health workers. It is our priority commitment – with your help – to get each and every one of them vaccinated as soon as possible.
The communities in which most of Africa’s people live, including those in the most remote areas, must be vaccinated as well, of course. Meeting this objective will require a great deal of work, for example, ensuring well-functioning logistics (including the cold chain that makes it possible to maintain minus 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit temperature conditions) as well as other resources – syringes, cotton wool, alcohol, staff training– that cannot be taken for granted in low-resource settings. There is also the challenge of making vaccination culturally acceptable to communities, which will require public health campaigns. Since we do this work daily, we already have the essentials – vehicles, motorbikes, generators, solar panels, cooler boxes, and personnel – but now need to ramp up. We will tackle the job as always, not as do-it-all “superheroes” eager for the spotlight, but as sober, dependable health professionals doing our level best to meet the needs of communities and help overcome the vulnerabilities of healthcare systems that, already weak prior to the pandemic, now risk total collapse. And we will support our local partners, whether at the central level (Ministries of Health) or the peripheral one (districts and individual facilities) by working with them.
We’d like to ask for your generous participation, in the form of a symbolic €10 contribution to deliver a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine to the countries where CUAMM is present in Africa, to help us get vaccines into the arms of our 20,000 colleagues there. The cost for meeting this initial challenge – vaccinating each individual fully (two doses) – is €400,000, but we hope to vaccinate many more thereafter.
Our appeal goes out to everyone, including individuals both young and older, groups, foundations, public and church institutions and international media and partners. We need all of you, because only together will it be possible to undertake such a major challenge. The renowned immunologist Alberto Mantovani is the first official supporter of our appeal.
Recently a CUAMM mission returned from Mozambique. While still there, one of our Italian doctors who had already received his vaccine was speaking with a young Mozambican colleague. The latter quietly confided in the former: “You’re so fortunate to have been vaccinated! I hope to be soon too”.
Thank you for helping us out with whatever you can. It will mean a vaccine not only for our young colleague in Mozambique, but also for “us” all.