Onome Ako, Executive Director, Amref Health Africa in Canada
By: Camilla Knox-Peebles, CEO, Amref Health Africa UK; Hubert Chauvet, CEO, Amref Health Africa France; Guglielmo Micucci, Director General, Amref Health Africa Italy; Onome Ako, Executive Director, Amref Health Africa Canada
COVID-19 is global. Many G7 leaders have acknowledged that COVID-19 anywhere is a problem everywhere. Yet, our leaders are not doing enough to bring an end to COVID-19 globally.
We can see this most clearly when we look at COVID-19 vaccines and how they are being distributed and administered. Only 1.9% of people in Africa have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 33% in Europe and 38% in North America. (As of June 4, 2021, Our World In Data)
To many of us living in a G7 country, the continent of Africa seems far away – not something we should worry about when it comes to protecting our loved ones from contracting COVID-19, or getting our economies running again. As we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, however, distance means little in our world that is so interconnected. We’ve watched as at least one COVID-19 variant of concern has found its way into every G7 country. Even with the UK’s highly successful vaccination campaign, the country is potentially facing new challenges as the Delta variant begins to spread. As public health specialists and scientists continue to remind us, viruses will do what they do best – spread from person to person, no matter where those people live or who they are. The reality is, no one is safe until we are all safe, and life won’t return to ‘normal’ in G7 countries if we leave Africa behind.
The same goes for our economies. Yes, we may safely and gradually open up the UK, France, Italy, and Canada as more people there get fully vaccinated. But, the health of their economies is intertwined with those in Africa. COVID-19 has hit economies in sub-Saharan Africa hard, wiping out an estimated five years of progress. The economy of the sub-Saharan region shrank for the first time in 25 years last year, with estimates that 32 million additional people fell into extreme poverty . (World Bank)
As G7 leaders meet June 11 to 13 in Cornwall, United Kingdom, there’s no question the challenges presented by COVID-19 are big, global, interconnected, and complex. That is precisely why we need our G7 leaders to come together to support solutions that will help everyone, everywhere to recover from COVID-19 while also preparing for the next global health emergency.
As the heads of the African-led international health organization, Amref Health Africa, in Canada, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, we are putting forward a few solutions that we believe our G7 leaders must adopt.
The first is one that has been widely talked about – waiving intellectual property rights. This is an important and necessary step. All G7 leaders must support calls, led by India and South Africa, for the temporary waiver of intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies for COVID-19 technologies and commodities, including vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics. We commend President Macron and Prime Minister Draghi for supporting this call, and trust that Prime Minister Johnson and Prime Minister Trudeau will soon publicly confirm their support. Doing so would be in keeping with what their own citizens are calling for: 70% of G7 citizens support sharing COVID-19 vaccine knowledge, according to a survey conducted by The People’s Vaccine, of which Amref Health Africa is a proud member.
Second, donate surplus doses of COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX now (and before they expire). Canada has contracts to purchase more COVID-19 vaccine doses per person than any country in the world. Research from Unicef suggests that the UK could share 20% of the doses it has acquired and still be able to vaccinate all adults by the end of July. All G7 leaders need to commit to set and meet clear targets for vaccine dose-sharing to ensure that there is a dependable supply going to African countries, just as President Biden did last week. We applaud President Macron’s commitment to deliver 500,000 doses through COVAX by mid-June, Prime Minister Draghi’s commitment of 15 million doses by the end of 2021 and Prime Minister Johnson’s recent commitment of 100 million doses within the next year.
Our final recommendation: G7 leaders must invest in sustainably strengthening health systems, human resources for health, and health research and development in African countries. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have fragile health systems that have been furthered weakened during the pandemic, and a severe shortage of frontline health workers also made worse by COVID-19. The lack of investment is now creating challenges to get what few COVID-19 vaccines there are available in sub-Saharan Africa into people’s arms. G7 countries can best support long-term investment in these critical areas by ensuring they meet the target of contributing 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) to Official Development Assistance (ODA). The UK was meeting the 0.7% target until recently when it announced significant cuts, reducing its aid allocation to 0.5% of GNI and promising to up it again “when the fiscal situation allows.” France, Italy and Canada sit at 0.53%, 0.22% and 0.31% respectively. (OECD preliminary 2020 data)
Ending the pandemic everywhere is within our power. What is lacking is the political will, and courage, to take bold steps that don’t resemble ‘business as usual’ but are the right thing to do: both for citizens of the G7 countries and for the rest of the world. This weekend, Amref hopes to see G7 leaders standing in solidarity with Africa and creating the right conditions to end COVID-19 everywhere with no one left behind.
Update: June 11, 2021; 10:30 a.m. EDT As reported in The Globe and Mail, Prime Minster Trudeau is expected to commit to donating up to 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses.