The Star Late Edition

Rethinking the pandemic

Let’s create a virus-free era by closing the vaccinatio­n gap between rich and poor countries

- MAMMO MUCHIE Muchie is a DSI/NRF-Rated Research Professor in Innovation Studies at Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, and senior research associate at the Technology, Management, Developmen­t Centre, Oxford University, UK.

THE Covid-19 pandemic has significan­tly changed the world globally.

There have been more than 193 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 so far, including more than 4 million deaths. On the African continent, more than 6.4 million confirmed cases were recorded, and more than 164 000 people died due to Sars-CoV-2 infection. The pandemic has also caused crucial economic challenges across the world by creating job losses, increasing poverty, social dislocatio­n, loss of life and social insecurity.

Countries are endlessly striving to battle and overcome this economic as well as social crisis. It has obstructed the direction of the countries in accomplish­ing the Sustainabl­e Developmen­t Goals (SDG) 2030.

The World Health Organizati­on (WHO) has attached great importance to the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa, and provided systematic support to African countries by developing the preparatio­n and response plan for this pandemic, improving the testing and surveillan­ce capability and purchasing the vaccine via the Covax initiative.

China, as a model country, has greatly contribute­d to the world in fighting this pandemic. Chinese scientists shared the sequence of the SarsCoV-2 in the first place, and helped to develop the testing kits and pave the road to the developmen­t of different Covid-19 vaccines.

Chinese medical doctors have undertaken the epidemiolo­gy, clinical manifestat­ions, diagnosis, treatments and prevention that can be shared, particular­ly in Africa, Latin America and Asia, and the rest of the world.

The Chinese government also donated thousands of millions of personal protective equipment as well as Covid-19 vaccines, especially to African countries, helping to fight this pandemic.

The SARS-CoV-2 is a totally new virus to us and we knew virtually nothing about it when the pandemic broke out. However, some countries have been bent on going down the road of politicisa­tion, stigmatisa­tion and ideologica­l framing. Former US president Donald Trump claimed that the virus was deliberate­ly created in a laboratory, but could not even justify it himself. The Wall Street Journal also published an exclusive report which quoted the so-called unclassifi­ed US intelligen­ce report, to once again hype up the “lab-leak” hypothesis. The purpose is self-evident. It is aimed at obstructin­g co-operation on the global origin-tracing, deflecting responsibi­lity for its own poor Covid-19 response at home, and using this as an opportunit­y to defame and blame China.

Countries did not or were not willing to take the right action to control this pandemic. Some of them were inactive and failed to focus on fighting this pandemic, resulting in a wide spread of the Sars-CoV-2, both domestical­ly and abroad. Vaccine nationalis­m and competitio­n is another problem. The richest countries have secured billions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, while developing economies are still struggling to access supplies.

Until now the African continent has only administer­ed about 21 million doses, while some countries are stockpilin­g millions of doses. No country in need of vaccines should be left behind, nor should any people waiting for the vaccine be forgotten. Otherwise the global anti-pandemic effort will be derailed and the pandemic will never end.

We should conduct sourcing-tracing of the virus in a scientific way, rather than in a political way. Early this year, the WHO released a report on the joint WHO-China study of the Sars-CoV-2 origin, which analysed the four means of transmissi­on, and has drawn clear conclusion­s, including acknowledg­ing that “the lab leak is extremely unlikely”.

This is an important first step. Recently, the WHO has planned to conduct the phase 2 origin tracing study. This study is necessary, but should be conducted based on what we have known, and should continue to look for more possible early cases in a wider range around the globe and to further understand the role of cold chain and frozen food in virus transmissi­on.

Countries should co-operate with each other and be more responsibl­e to their citizens and to the world. We have seen a lot of evidence that countries suffered wave after wave of this pandemic due to negative attitudes and failure to take the right action in time. There must not be competitio­n in handling this virus, as it has now spread globally. The outbreak of the pandemic is a natural disaster and nobody should be condemned due to the first detection of new viruses.

What we should do is to upgrade the capacity of human beings to respond and reduce the impacts of the disaster to all humanity, as one societal community. There are several similar events in history, such as the outbreak of Ebola, HIV or other viruses. If we do want to blame someone or some countries for the losses during this pandemic, it should be those which did not care about their people and did not take the right action to contain the virus, rather than to blame the country where the virus is said to have originated first.

Covid-19 vaccine is a global public good. Let’s enter a virus-free era by creating, with the speed of light, a healthy and socially secure world for all by sharing all the vaccinatio­ns equitably to all in the world.

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