ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA, 21 APRIL 2021. Participants in a two-day dialogue organized by the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA) in partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), have unequivocally resounded the urgent need for Africa to find home-grown solutions to its healthcare challenges, particularly access to COVID-19 vaccines and other vaccines.
H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chair of the CoDA Board of Directors, who opened the dialogue, said: “Beyond COVID-19, Africa needs a forward-looking roadmap for addressing the shortcomings we have witnessed in Africa’s response to the pandemic. Africa needs a more sustainable approach to addressing the challenges in accessing vaccines and other public health services during emergencies.”
“Africa’s solutions lie in Africa. As the continental organization responsible for the welfare of populations living in Africa, the African Union will do all it can to support implementation of key recommendations from this dialogue,” said Dr Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Deputy Chairperson, African Union Commission.
The dialogue brought together stakeholders from different sectors in Africa: community leaders, religious leaders, scientists, researchers, academics, civil society, the media, and the youth. Discussions focused on how Africa can strengthen the current response to COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that Africans have equitable access to vaccines now and in the future.
Describing the impact of the pandemic on Africa, Prof. Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman, Board of Trustees, AFREXIMBANK & Chairman, Board of Trustees for the African Union COVID-19 Response Fund, said: “Africa is disproportionately affected by infectious diseases, but accounts for less than 0.1% of the world’s vaccine production, hence the current struggle for access to the COVID-19 vaccine.” “Overdependence on global supply chains for the simplest healthcare supplies has made Africa not to be in control of critical anti-COVID-19 supplies,” he added.
The dialogue provided opportunity for stakeholders who are not directly involved in the COVID-19 response to provide useful insights into actions that Africa can take to strengthen its public health systems, with emphasis on vaccines and vaccination.
“This dialogue is important because it takes the discussion beyond public health and beyond those engaged in the COVID-19 response. It is essential to dialogue beyond your immediate circles,” said Dr Ahmed Ouma, Deputy Director at Africa CDC.
Speaking as a community leader and a leading African entrepreneur, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, Esama of Benin Kingdom and Chancellor and Chairman, Board of Regents, Igbinedion University, said: “African countries need more support for messaging on the prevention of COVID-19 and the importance of COVID-19 vaccination, but beyond this, support must be provided to continental efforts to develop African vaccines.”
Bishop Georges Chihane, Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Cairo, Egypt and Sheik Abdullatif Abdulkarim, Jamia Mosque, Nairobi, Kenya, who both gave perspectives to the discussion from the faith-based perspectives said the Pope and the Grand Imam of the Great Mosque of Mecca have taken the vaccine and are encouraging others to do the same. They said it is the duty of spiritual leaders to ensure that their followers are in good health. They called on religious leaders to support continent-wide access to vaccines in Africa and to help tackle myths, misconceptions and misinformation about COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines.
Discussion on the second day of the dialogue focused on youth perspectives on the response to COVID-19 pandemic in Africa and access to the vaccines.
“Young people should be at the centre of Africa’s development and Africa’s approach to youth empowerment must be dynamic to be able to harness the knowledge and contributions of young people on the continent,” said Prof. Sarah Agbor, Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, African Union Commission.
William Carew, Head of the African Union ECOSOC Secretariat, described some of the innovative young people have championed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, including the production of masks, development of mobile apps and development of solar-powered handwashing machines. He encouraged young Africans to be mindset-positive so they can become revered leaders and advocates of public health.
Other speakers highlighted areas that young people can be empowered to contribute more to Africa’s development, mainly the need for governments to encourage entrepreneurship among young people by addressing the challenge of insecurity across the continent, training young people to become involved in vaccine research and development, catering to the needs of young people with disabilities, and investing in ICT infrastructure to strengthen the educational system and enable young Africans to access global opportunities.
Following this dialogue, CoDA is setting up an independent multisectoral, multidisciplinary task team to examine its recommendations and provide guidance for immediate implementation, in partnership with Igbinedion University, Okada, Nigeria and support of private universities and research institutions in Africa.
“Africa must go beyond talking to taking steps to implement actions that have been suggested in this dialogue. Next month, Igbinedion University will host a discussion with CoDA on how to establish a centre in Nigeria that will champion actualization of vaccine manufacturing on the continent,” said Prof. Godwin Bazuaye, Chief Medical Director, Igbinedion University Teaching Hospital.