COVID-19: Inequality in vaccine availability, distribution poses global threat

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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has decried the inequality in the availability of COVID-19 vaccine, saying the trend is holding the world back.

Making reference to reports that G20 countries have received 15 times more COVID-19 vaccine doses per capita than countries in sub-Saharan Africa, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said vaccine inequity is not just holding the poorest countries back but holding the whole world back.

Speaking ahead of the G20 Leaders’ Summit, Fore said. “As leaders meet to set priorities for the next phase of the COVID-19 response, it is vital they remember that, in the COVID vaccine race, we either win together, or we lose together.”

Ahead of the G20 Leaders’ Summit this weekend, 48 UNICEF Africa ambassadors and supporters have called on countries to deliver doses by December.

Recently, a report by a science analytics company, Airfinity exposed the severity of vaccine inequity between high-income and low-income countries, especially in Africa.

It found that doses delivered to G20 countries per capita are 15 times higher than doses delivered per capita to sub-Saharan African countries; 15 times higher than doses delivered per capita to low-income countries and three times higher than doses delivered per capita in all other countries combined.

A statement by UNICEF on Wednesday said wealthy countries with more supplies than they need have generously pledged to donate the doses to low- and middle-income countries via COVAX but the promised doses are moving too slowly.

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UNICEF says of the1.3 billion additional doses countries have pledged to donate, only 194 million doses have been provided to COVAX.

It lamented that African countries, in particular, have largely been left without access to COVID-19 vaccines, with less than 5 per cent of the African population fully vaccinated, leaving many countries at high risk of further outbreaks.

The statement said, ‘ As leaders prepare to meet for the G20 Summit in Rome this weekend, 48 UNICEF Africa ambassadors and supporters from across the continent have united in an open letter, calling for leaders to honour their promises to urgently deliver doses, writing that “the stakes could not be higher.”

The letter’s signatories, including Angelique Kidjo, Arlo Parks, Davido, Tendai Mtawarira, Femi Kuti, Tony Elumelu, Ramla Ali, Kate Henshaw, Winnie Byanyima and others, are calling on leaders to donate the pledged vaccines by December, along with the necessary resources to turn the vaccines into vaccinations.

The statement said: “Every day Africa remains unprotected, pressure builds on fragile health systems where there can be one midwife for hundreds of mothers and babies,” the letter reads. “As the pandemic causes a spike in child malnutrition, resources are diverted from life-saving health services and childhood immunization. Children already orphaned risk losing grandparents. Disaster looms for sub-Saharan African families, four out of five of whom rely on the informal sector for their daily bread. Poverty threatens children’s return to school, protection from violence and child marriage.”

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