World Bank president David Malpass and his senior management team, comprising Dr Axel van Trotsenburg and Dr Makhtar Diop, have met with the African Union’s (AU's) Covid-19 Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (Avatt) to discuss modalities for a partnership that will accelerate vaccine deployment to Africa.
In a historic Covid-19 vaccine procurement agreement signed on March 28, the Avatt had previously successfully secured up to 400-million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single-shot Covid-19 vaccine with the support of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank).
In his capacity as chairperson of the AU, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, established the Avatt on November 6, 2020, and mandated it to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for AU member States and provide the required financing.
African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention director and member of the Avatt, Dr John Nkengasong says the J&J doses are a critical step towards the continental goal of vaccinating at least 60% of Africans.
The World Bank team and the Avatt team have agreed to fast-track all administrative procedures to ensure vaccines reach countries as early as possible.
“Reaching this target is a prerequisite to saving African lives and livelihoods, safely reopening our economies and resuming our economic development agenda,” he says.
Under the Avatt structure, AU member States are allocated vaccines, according to the size of their populations, for purchase through a pooled procurement mechanism.
These vaccines complement the vaccines offered through the Covax Facility, which has set out to deliver vaccines for up to 30% of participating countries’ populations, to enable the AU member States to reach the continental target.
With over 41 countries at different stages of finalising their orders for buying the vaccine and with vaccination momentum growing, it is essential that countries feel they can get sufficient doses quickly and in an affordable way.
Afreximbank president Professor Benedict Oramah says that, in providing a $2-billion guarantee on behalf of the AU member States, the bank was able to help put Africa in a strong negotiating position with producers as role-players on the continent negotiated vaccine procurement.
“It was obvious to us at Avatt that no deal would have been possible without a strong financial backing.”
AU special envoy and coordinator of the Avatt Strive Masiyiwa says the World Bank’s decision to partner with Avatt on the heels of the US announcement about dose sharing means countries can be assured they can both access and finance the vaccines they need.
Once the vaccines arrive in the member States, additional efforts will be required to support their deployment, including in-country distribution (logistics and storage in line with the cold-chain requirements), and securing the required systems, capacities and capabilities for vaccination.
It also includes targeted research and campaigns to identify and address vaccine hesitancy through clear and targeted risk communication and community engagement.
Looking ahead, the United Nations under secretary general and UN Economic for Africa (ECA) executive secretary Vera Songwe says the pandemic served to expose vulnerabilities already existing in Africa’s health systems which were well documented in the ECA’s Health and Economic Growth in Africa report in 2019.
She notes that the African Continental Free Trade Area now provides the platform for building a resilient and inclusive health system, with local production of vaccines, medicines and medical equipment on the continent.