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Africa’s COVID crisis and the politics of selfishness

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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What We're Watching: Africa desperate for vaccines, US-EU truce on airplanes, ICC probes Duterte

Africa is running out of vaccines: Africa has received fewer vaccines than any other continent, and the results are now showing. Faced with a third wave of infection, many African countries say that cases are soaring and that vaccine deliveries from the WHO-managed COVAX facility remain sluggish, in large part because of shortages from Indian drug manufacturers. South Africa, Namibia, and Uganda say that their healthcare systems are inundated with COVID cases; ICU beds are scarce, and COVID patients are dying while waiting for hospital beds. To date, just 0.6 percent of Africa's 1.3 billion people are fully vaccinated, and new variants are spreading, making containment across the continent even harder. (Cases in the South African province of Gauteng, home to the hubs of Johannesburg and Pretoria, where South Africa's more transmissible COVID strain has run rampant, have doubled over the past week, and doctors are bracing for a surge in deaths.) Meanwhile, the G7 countries agreed this week to send 1 billion COVID doses to poor countries, but experts warn that these may not arrive in Africa before most states' supplies run dry.

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What We're Watching: Africa's vaccine shortage, Colombian unrest, Bibi fails to form government

India's COVID crisis hurts Africa: As COVID started to ravage India in March, New Delhi announced a ban on all vaccine exports to prioritize the domestic crisis. This development was a massive blow for the COVAX facility, which is relying on India's Serum Institute manufacturing the AstraZeneca shot for low-income countries. The impact of this export ban is now being felt acutely across Africa, where many countries have received a scarce number of doses. The World Health Organization says that at least seven African countries including Rwanda, Ghana, and Senegal have already exhausted all their vaccine supplies — and because of delays from India, will now need to wait several weeks for more to arrive. COVAX, which has received 90 million fewer doses to date than it was initially promised, says it needs an extra 20 million doses by the end of June to offset shortfalls caused by the worsening crisis in India. It's a worrying trend: while inoculation drives in places like the US, the UK and Israel are allowing their economies to reopen and life to slowly return to normal, many low-income countries will not return to normalcy for years, experts warn. To date, only 2 percent of all doses administered globally have been in Africa, despite the continent accounting for 17 percent of the global population.

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