BY PRINCELY ONYENWE, IMO
Director general World Trade Organization WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said that Africa needs to create a “roadmap to stamp down the wide spread of covid-19 pandemic.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has continued to counsel on how African nations can recover after COVID-19.
There are fears that COVID-19 has the potential to wipe out three decades of growth and development in Africa.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, fears the COVID-19 pandemic could wipe out two or three decades of growth and development on the African continent if proper measures are not put in place.
The director-general, World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said Africa needs to create a “roadmap” for boosting the continent’s capacity to eventually produce COVID-19 vaccines.
The WTO DG said it has become an emergency as the continent lags in its efforts to vaccinate 60 per cent of its 1.3 billion.
Okonjo-Iweala raised this concern in Abuja, during her meeting with the country’s captains of industries that had the likes of Alhaji Aliko Dangote in attendance.
The WTO DG, who noted that African countries are getting vaccines from the international COVAX initiative and from donors like India, China and Russia, which are producing vaccines, argued that the continent’s dependence on imported vaccines may well be a hindrance to the inoculation drive as richer countries stockpile vaccines and prioritise their own populations — despite a surge in cases and a new variant affecting the continent.
The WTO DG also warned that access to poor-quality vaccines is worse than no access.
She said the goal of local manufacturing must be to ensure quality, protect patients, and foster trust in vaccine safety.
“It’s so important for us to have that,” she said, referring to vaccine security.
According to her, to compound matters, without a stable supply, opportunities for substandard and falsified vaccines to enter the supply-chain may increase, diminishing trust in vaccines and health systems.
Okonjo-Iweala, further said African countries would need to have in place, the right systems and infrastructure to define the regulatory and ethical pathways for a quick approval of a candidate vaccine.
She said at this stage of the continent’s development, it can no longer continue depending on the West for vaccine supplies.
Meanwhile research has proved that Debt standstill arrangements are needed to help African nations finance recovery and build a more sustainable future.
“We should not be complacent about where Africa is. The number of cases is still doubling every two weeks and that is with very minimal testing.”
These are the words of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, DG WTO, ex-finance minister of Nigeria, former managing director of the World Bank, chair of the board of Gavi, and the main guest on this week’s World vs Virus podcast.
Speaking of the pandemic’s impact on Africa and its people, she addresses the difficult decisions facing governments trying to balance their population’s health with economic need.
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Past experience with diseases like Ebola and Polio have taught the continent some important lessons about isolating cases, effective contact tracing and community education programmes to promote containment measures.
As surging patient numbers stretched the health services in many developed countries, Africa’s healthcare capacity for dealing with the pandemic could be quickly overwhelmed.
This knowledge helped drive many African countries to act quickly and put full or partial lockdowns in place to slow the spread of the virus. While these moves helped control the virus, they have sparked unprecedented economic disruption.
“Right now under prediction is a contraction on the continent of about 2%.
This has not happened for the past 25 years. So I have this fear that the two or three decades of growth and development may be lost,” Okonjo-Iweala explains.
A high proportion of Africa’s workforce operates in the informal economy – more than 70% in some urban areas – earning enough to live day by day.
Being unable to work due to lockdown restrictions leaves many of these people without money to feed their families.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is chair of the board of Gavi, the global alliance for vaccines.
“On the continent there has been this saying that the hunger virus might kill people before coronavirus. So you have to think of the economic consequences right away, as well as the health consequences. And it has not been easy balancing the two,” she says.
Asked what keeps her awake at night…
“Although the number of COVID-19 cases in Africa is quite low compared to other regions, the true extent of the pandemic’s impact remains unclear,” she says. “If case numbers keep doubling as they have been, troubling times lay ahead.”
Education could also be at risk, widening equality and opportunity gaps. “With schools closed, education could become another casualty of the pandemic as many African children don’t have internet access to facilitate online learning.”
And while lockdowns can control the virus, they present their own safety issues. “With children unable to learn, confined to home with their families, gender violence rates are increasing in many parts of the world.”
9News Nigeria (Owerri)
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