BlackFacts Details

‘We can’t afford to become the COVID-19 continent’

By Aanu Adeoye/Simon Allison The Continent recently interviewed John N Nkengasong (JNN), director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control on a wide range of issues. Here are the excerpts: The Continent: In the United Kingdom they are talking about getting back to normal by their summer. What sort of vaccine timelines should we be thinking about in Africa? JNN: In April and May we should hopefully begin to see vaccinations start to pick up here. Covax and the African vaccine acquisition task team (Avatt) will begin to ship. This is the timeline I predicted. At the start of the pandemic everybody said the right things about global solidarity and equitable access, but that didn’t translate into action. We failed to translate our public pronouncements into action. Everybody outside of Africa is guilty of that, too. The Chinese president made a strong pronouncement at a summit with African presidents. The G20 made pronouncements. But this didn’t really translate into action. What should Africa do to avoid being in this situation again if or when another pandemic arrives? We need a new public health order for our security as a continent. That will hinge on four things. First, we must invest in manufacturing — here on the continent — in the three interventions: diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics. Remember in March last year when other countries and blocs were testing? We were not. And that invited stigmatisation: “Africa is not testing”. Until we made all the noises, organised, got diagnostics from China and started testing. Second, we have to be very deliberate in our public health workforce development. We need 6 000 epidemiologists. We only have 1 900 on a continent of 1,2 billion people. That’s like going to a gunfight with a knife. We need 25 000 frontline responders. We only have about 5 000. That’s not acceptable. Third, we need to strengthen our public health agencies, like the Europeans are doing. They are very quietly empowering their CDC to make its own decisions and have the legal mandate to co-ordinate. Africa CDC is a wonderful vision of our heads of States, but we must give it the autonomy and latitude it needs to work. If you do that, you create a network of national public health institutions that become your “military bases” across the continent. Lastly, we must engage the private sector. I have learnt a lot in this pandemic by working with people such as Donald Kaberuka, Strive Masiyiwa, Benedict Oramah and Vera Songwe. They are not public health experts but we come together nearly every week and we think through the issues. The Continent: Can you talk us through how the AU and Afreximbank secured vaccines outside of the Covax mechanism? JNN: Covax represents a symbol of global co-operation and solidarity, but it has always been very clear that they will give you, as a continent, 20% of your vaccines. And there is no way you can get rid of COVID-19 with 20% vaccination. We need at least 60%. Europe is trying to vaccinate 80%. The United States is trying to vaccinate everybody. They will finish vacci

Education Facts