Vaccine famine & its impact on African economies

AHUNNA EZIAKONWA

WE are about to start a third year of living with COVID-19. The world’s humanity and solidarity are now at its further test – and yet the implications of the absence of solidarity keep us all in the boat of mutations, lockdowns, quarantines and delayed SDGs – denied prosperity for all. 2021 has unearthed a new expression of global inequity: “vaccine nationalism” – which itself competes high with socioeconomic downturns, jobless growth, the climate crisis, and rising poverty.

As the pandemic ravages on, with Omicron on the scene, the futility of hoarding takes centre stage as even the heavy supply of boosters in advanced economies has not shielded them from the vicious cycle of pandemic-living.

While about 60 per cent of the population in the US and 76 per cent in Canada are fully vaccinated, in Africa – a continent that is home to 1.3 billion people – the number barely reaches 8 per cent.

Many have argued that vaccines’ short shelf life, hesitancy and logistic challenges weigh in. Granted. But the main issue remains the absence of global solidarity – where the rich hoard and the weaker economies deal with vaccine famine – awaiting their turn…

Vaccine Inequality is also manifest in vaccine affordability. For high-income countries to vaccinate 70 per cent of their population it will take raising their health care spending by 0.8 per cent. Lower-income countries must increase health care spending by over 50 per cent, on average – to do the same.

Vaccines delayed is development denied. Estimates show that vaccine delays cost Africa up to $14 billion in lost productivity each month and making recovery more challenging – and dragging out the first-in-a-generation recession the continent is facing.

African governments have responded quickly to contain the spread of the virus – but success is overshadowed by the pandemic’s socioeconomic consequences. In 2019, Africa was witnessing record growth numbers in various sectors – like tourism, where Africa had the second-fastest-growing tourism sector in the world, contributing 8.5 per cent of the continent’s GDP.

However, with the pandemic, tourism has come to a standstill, and the continent recorded a 2.1 per cent decline in economic growth in 2020. Other accompanying challenges have included general exchange rates depreciations, food insecurity and increased job losses.

Vaccine delays will cost Sub-Saharan Africa 3 per cent of the region’s forecast GDP in 2022-25. UNDP research reveals that recovery rates are strongly correlated to capacity to vaccinate – with a $7.93 billion increase in global GDP for every million people vaccinated.

Low-income countries that are severely impacted by the pandemic do not have the fiscal and financial leeway available to wealthy countries. They risk enduring the pandemic longer if they do not gain early access to COVID-19 vaccines.

This places an inordinate burden on national budgets at a time when the pandemic has decimated fiscal revenues and when higher spending is needed from governments to protect their people and cushion the socioeconomic shock caused by the pandemic.

There is a risk of seeing African countries’ budget deficit widen and it is urgent for us to support countries in developing alternative financing sources. Vaccine famine is putting millions at risk of infection, constraining economic productivity and jeopardizing socioeconomic progress.

The key question today is: Can the world afford such blatant inequality in the face of a pandemic that is sparing no region?

The path to recovery will remain long and uncertain unless we take urgent measures to overhaul the current system of vaccine production, distribution, and financing. Below are some ideas on how to get there fast – building on a consensus emerged from the recently concluded African Economic Conference in Sal, Cabo Verde.

2022 must be a year where collective global action prioritize vaccine equity and ensure a shot for all. Omicron has reminded us that there is just no other way to build forward better.

Ahunna Eziakonwa is UN Assistant-Secretary General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director, Regional Bureau for Africa.


  • This article is republished from IPS and can be read here.



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