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Aghast at Covid hell in India


AFRICA is watching aghast as India struggles with coronaviru­s, fearing a long-running shortfall in the Indian-made vaccines that it needs to help shield its people.

Often dubbed the “world’s pharmacy”, India is one of the biggest suppliers of the Astrazenec­a vaccine under the Covax programme to help immunisati­on in poorer countries. But India has been hammered by an explosive growth in infections – accelerate­d, say scientists, by a new variant.

The country has recorded 22 million cases out of a population of 1.3 billion, inflicting a death toll of nearly a quarter of a million.

After sending more than 60 million doses abroad, India announced at the end of March that it was delaying overseas supplies as it works to meet its own needs.

AU health ministers held emergency talks online on Saturday to discuss the vaccine gap.

“The vaccines situation is extremely complex now because of the situation in India,” said Cameroonia­n virologist John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the AU’S health watchdog.

“We are hoping that there will be a continuous supply of vaccines through Covax from India, but we are watching in total horror and disbelief what is going on in India and we don’t expect that vaccines will be shipped out of India anytime soon.”

Africa has been relatively spared the worst of the pandemic so far with just more than 124 000 deaths officially recorded for 4.6 million cases.

But Africa has overcrowde­d cities, with slums that are a breeding ground for the virus, and a fragile health infrastruc­ture – risk factors that also feature prominentl­y in India’s tragic experience.

The continent has administer­ed 19.6 million doses, or just 2%of the global total. According to the World Health Organizati­on (WHO), 80%of doses have been administer­ed in wealthier countries.

Lacking the means to manufactur­e their own vaccine in bulk, African countries have had to turn to the open market or the Covax scheme.

The AU’S African Vaccine Acquisitio­n Task Team hopes to acquire doses through its own programme by the end of July or early August, and Nkengasong said that while he hoped that date could be brought forward he could make no guarantees.

Nkengasong said he did not expect the vaccine market to open up again until the third quarter.

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