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Pandemic's third wave batters health services

The UN system, IMF and World Bank sound new warning on deadly failures over vaccine deliveries to developing countries

Almost a month after the Group of 7 summit, where the world's richest economies promised to deliver a billion vaccines to developing countries by early next year, there is a serious shortfall in financing, even for that modest goal. Africa has received just over 1% of the vaccines given worldwide.

As the third wave of Covid-19 infections sweeps southern and eastern Africa, with over 20 countries reporting cases of the Delta variant, the international task force on vaccines (which groups the UN, the World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank) warned that urgent action was needed 'to arrest the rising human toll and halt further divergence in economic recovery between advanced countries and the rest'.

The IMF has set out a clear plan costing $50 billion to vaccinate the majority of the world by the mid-2022 but contributions from the richest economies are way under target. And on 30 June, the task force called on G20 countries to share one billion doses immediately from their collective stockpiles with developing economies and 'to embrace the target of [vaccinating] at least 40% in every country by end-2021 and at least 60% by the first half of 2022.' 

Criticism is growing of the failures of the Covax (a public-private partnership between WHO, the Gavi Alliance and pharmaceutical companies) to accelerate distribution of vaccines and other therapeutics. Covax has promised to deliver 1.8 billion doses by early next year but so far has shipped just 90 million doses to 130 countries.

United States President Joe Biden has given $4bn to Covax to buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine but rich European countries have done little in comparison, according to African officials involved in logistics.

Strive Masiyiwa, the Zimbabwean telecoms tycoon and one of the lead figures in the African Union's effort to speed up deliveries, told Bloomberg News: 'Now is the time for Europe to open up its production facilities so we can buy vaccines… not a single dose, not one vial has left a European factory for Africa.'

He adds, '… when we've gone to talk to their manufacturers they tell us they are completely maxed out meeting the needs of Europe.'

However, in what looks like a case of vaccine diplomacy, Rwanda has signed a $3.6m partnership with the European Union to upgrade its laboratory capacity to attract investors to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines. Rwanda is the first country to get EU funding for vaccine production.

The main hurdle now is getting private investors on board, although President Paul Kagame told the Qatar Economic Forum last week that negotiations with private sector firms to manufacture vaccines have advanced and that the production process would start 'in a few months.'

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