By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Two of the leading organizations who are involved in the fight to end the ongoing health pandemic on the African continent say there is a need to strengthen the partnership between USAID and the Africa CDC.
The USAID Covid-19 Task Force Executive Director, Jeremy Konyndyk and the Director of the Africa CDC Dr John Nkengasong were speaking during the Digital Press Briefing on the Global Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in African Countries organized by the Africa Regional Media Hub of the US Department of State this June 17.
Last week, President Biden announced that the U.S. will be donating half a billion Pfizer vaccines through the COVAX initiative to the AU and additional low- and middle-income countries that make up part of the COVAX advanced market commitment, the 92 countries in that group. This is the largest-ever donation of vaccines by any country in history and it further solidifies America’s commitment to saving lives and to helping lead the world out of this pandemic.
“We’ll work with COVAX in distributing these vaccines and we will consult with partners in Africa and with Dr Nkengasong and his team on our vaccine work on the continent,” Jeremy Konyndyk, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) COVID-19 Task Force Executive Director said in his opening statements.
“We are also actively consulting with the Africa CDC and the AU on the distribution of 80 million vaccine doses that we previously announced, so that will bring so far the total U.S. vaccine dose donations to 580 million doses globally between the sharing of U.S. vaccines and the purchase of the new Pfizer vaccines. And that builds of course on 2 billion that the U.S. had already announced as a contribution to Gavi, the vaccine alliance for the COVAX platform. “
Jeremy Konyndyk added: “We’re also doing a great deal of other work in African countries to support both the COVID-19 response and some – and address some of the wider non-health impacts of the pandemic. So, to date, the U.S. has provided $541 million across 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that is supporting things like strengthening national health institutions, supporting access and distribution of critical support and medicines, supporting risk communication, vaccine readiness, community outreach, improved surveillance, and a range of other things.”
In his opening remarks, the Head of the Africa CDC, Dr John N. Nkengasong began by presenting an overview of the coronavirus on the continent. He said: “As a continent, to date, we have recorded 5 – slightly above – officially, of course, 5 million cases of COVID-19 across the continent with a mortality number of 136,000 people. What is unique with this pandemic in Africa is that several countries as we speak, about 15 of them are racing towards the third wave, and a couple of them are moving into the fourth wave.”
“I think if you were to ask me to characterize our experience with this pandemic after one year and a half, I would say that it is unprecedented; it is unpredictable; and for Africa, also that it is a volatile situation. We might be sitting on a volcano here to erupt if we do not do the right things and do them quickly, and that the impact of this pandemic on the continent, effect will be generational in terms of the disruption that it has caused for our economies, our health systems, and schools and other sectors…”
Responding to a question from one of the participants, Dr Nkengasong said he hope and believe that “we’ll get – continue to have the right support from our partners so that the platform becomes even a post-COVID infrastructure for us to fight other diseases, including the ones that burden us every day: the HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis.”
Speaking on vaccine distribution, Dr John Nkengasong said: “The African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – in abbreviation, AVATT – has been established which through that platform we have secured 220 million doses of Johnson & Johnson and with an option to go up to 400 million. So I think countries can go straight to that platform, the AMSP platform, to secure whatever amounts of vaccines that they will need for Johnson & Johnson.”
On the vaccine passport or certificate being talked about around the world, the Director of the Africa CDC said: “Our position as the African Union is clear that we are not encouraging yet the imposition of vaccine certificates for travel. I mean, we have engaged with the European Union on that. It’s a very – it’s a clear, specific position and the rationale is simple: that we just don’t have access to vaccines. So how do we – how do you penalize somebody that they should have their vaccine certificate where they are looking for those vaccines to get themselves immunized and conform?
“One track is accelerating vaccine availability and vaccine readiness, and that is the – that is the support that in the long run, or hopefully in the medium run, will ultimately bring an end to the acute phase of this pandemic,” Jeremy Konyndyk said responding to a question on What strategies should be adopted to streamline the global response to the pandemic as a collaborative mechanism by all nations?”
“But we also know that that is not going to be an immediate process, and so while we are increasing our investments in vaccine availability and vaccine readiness, we are also increasing our investments in frontline crisis response support and frontline system support so that health systems that are facing surges or health systems that are – that may someday face surges are more ready to do that. “
During the press briefing, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) COVID-19 Task Force Executive Director Jeremy Konyndyk announced more than $91 million to provide urgently needed food assistance, health care, water, and psychosocial support for people across Africa, to address urgent humanitarian needs caused by the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, USAID has provided more than $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to help millions impacted by the virus across the world.
According to a press release from USAID, the money will go to some 12 countries such as $7.5 million for Burkina Faso to provide vital food assistance, protection for children and survivors of gender-based violence by expanding access to basic services, and logistics support to ensure humanitarian assistance and workers reach communities affected by conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.
$7.5 million for Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanzania to provide food assistance for refugees, people who have returned to their communities, and other vulnerable community members to recover from the pandemic’s economic impacts; and $9 million for Chad to provide food assistance, including school meals, for vulnerable people and nutrition assistance to children.