The Star Late Edition
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.