For the first time in the history of mankind, our planet is facing a pandemic that has taken nearly 2.5 million lives since November 2019. No country has been spared by Covid-19 even if the effects are at varying degrees, for unknown reasons.
Today, a year after the beginning of an epidemic which has limited the freedom of our fellow citizens and has affected the development of our economies, our best answer and hope lie in vaccination for all. Indeed, a worldwide treatment of the disease has become a key global public health issue.
Only a multilateral solution can respond to this global challenge the world is faced with. In his recent interview in the British newspaper Financial Times on 17th February, the President of the French Republic, Mr. Emmanuel Macron, stated that “developed countries are mistaken if they think that vaccinating themselves alone and not sending vaccines to Africa or to other continents is a minor issue”. This is the basis for the ACT-A initiative and COVAX, its main pillar, which France has supported from the beginning.
In this regard, at the G7 meeting held on 19th February, President Emmanuel Macron proposed that the distribution of the vaccine to Africa be accelerated rapidly so that its administration can begin without further delay. The aim could be to allocate 4 to 5% of the currently available stock in the richest countries to a first vaccination campaign in Africa, on a multilateral basis and in partnership with the African countries which will receive the vaccine doses.
The solidarity of the richest economies with African countries will have to be demonstrated first and foremost, through the implementation of a proactive and more efficient plan rather than through announcements of allocated amounts that will only materialize in the long term.
France therefore proposes to immediately dispatch several million doses to African countries by establishing a country-by-country supply plan in collaboration with the states concerned and the WHO. These efforts must be based on transparency and regulation in the prices charged. Indeed, it has been revealed that some pharmaceutical companies sell doses of the vaccine to some African countries at prices up to three times higher than prices in Europe.
All countries must be mobilized in this operation because it would be inoperative, counterproductive and ultimately shocking, in view of the public health stakes, for diplomatic competition and influential “vaccine diplomacy” to take precedence over the essential issue of protecting the most fragile populations. It is the president’s wish “that we should not play politics but we should implicate everyone”.
One of the means must be the acceleration of the mobilization of production capacity and technology transfer by allowing vaccine production in Africa, especially where capacity may exist (South Africa, Senegal). Multilateral efforts must also focus on supporting African institutions and African tools for pandemic management, in particular CDC Africa, and also the network of Pasteur Institutes located in West, East, Central and Southern Africa, which is today a key resource for identifying and containing the risk of variants.
Vaccination everywhere and as quickly as possible: this is the narrow but necessary path to going back to life as we know it. Because no one is safe until everyone is safe. This is what France is committed to today, beyond nationalism and through multilateralism.
COVAX was launched in April 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the European Commission and France in response to this pandemic; bringing together governments, global health organizations, manufacturers, scientists, the private sector, civil society and philanthropists. Its aim is to provide vaccines as soon as they are available for all people across the globe, regardless of their economic status.
By HE Anne Sophie Ave, French ambassador to Ghana