“Just over one percent of the African population has been fully vaccinated and around 2.5 percent have received at least the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination as at June 2021.”
This sad report was announced recently by Africa’s apex health agency, the Center for Disease Control(CDC) at a forum. This underscores the need to tackle the spread of the disease across the region.
The raging COVID-19 pandemic is clearly a wake-up call for Africa. By comparison, in the European Union(EU), at least 50 percent of the population has received the first dose with about 40 percent being fully vaccinated. On January 1, 2020, the population of the European Union (EU) with 27 Member States was estimated at 447.7 million (4.7 million deaths and 4.2 million births in 2019).
On the contrary, the annual net increase in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country is about 5 million people. Thus, more than all births recorded in EU’s 27 Member States. Africa’s population currently stands at 1.4 billion; in 2020 Africa recorded over 95 million live births and about 26 million deaths, therefore, a natural increase of over 69 million people.
While the inequality in the supply of Covid-19 vaccines is causing irritation and disbelief among many African politicians, they should seriously consider the critical role of population dynamics and family planning in shaping our common destiny.
At the World Health Summit in Kampala in June 2021, Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni, while expressing his anger at the disparity in Covid-19 vaccine supply, also used his opening speech to warn his counterparts that the current situation is a wake-up call for Africa to be self-reliant. He said Africa cannot continue to rely on others to save its citizens all the time.
African countries have, so far relied almost entirely on vaccine imports from North America, Europe, and Asia not only in the fight against the scourge, but also against diseases such as measles, tetanus, HIV and tuberculosis. Only about one percent of all vaccines administered on the continent are produced in Africa, and production facilities currently exist only in Tunisia, Algeria, South Africa, and Senegal.
With the Covid-19 pandemic raging through much of Africa, several countries now want to change the narrative. The African Union(AU), plans to produce 60 percent of the vaccines needed in Africa by 2040, and as soon as possible, produce vaccines against the Covid-19 pandemic to mitigate its negative impact on lives and livelihoods.
Considering the massive investments required for specialized infrastructural development and training of personnel in vaccine production, coupled with financial constraints, amidst increasing consumption in the region, the leaders should also address the health emergency as well as population dynamics in developmental agenda.
As African leaders rally behind the production of vaccines in Africa, they should simultaneously consider building the capacity of pharmaceutical companies to produce family planning commodities to meet our reproductive health needs since many African countries depend on development partners to meet their reproductive health needs.
This global pandemic has exposed the imperative to boost vaccine production but also prioritize reproductive health and family planning in Africa. In many countries, where the synergy between vaccine administration and family planning are national priorities, various stakeholders are engaged in promoting the duo for individual and community health.
As a result, inequalities are gradually being bridged, fewer people are left behind and citizens are gradually moving out of poverty. Teen pregnancies, unmet needs for family planning and child marriage, will not only increase the numbers needing services (including vaccines) but will continue to increase funding for ill health, malnutrition, and fistula repairs, amongst others.
I strongly believe that meeting the reproductive health needs of the populace will free funds for AU to produce and meet their vaccine needs. However, if our leaders focus on vaccine production and neglect the complimentary role of family planning in our well-being, we will leave more people behind for the next generation to deal with – from healthcare to education, unemployment and security.
In my opinion, the whole world was relatively poor until vaccines and family planning methods were discovered and incorporated into our lives. Most countries embraced vaccination as a national public health program but, unfortunately, some countries, the majority being in South Sahara Africa (SSA), continue to resist prioritizing the family planning program thus making it difficult to improve lives and livelihoods. Governments and political leaders should address this challenge, in order to boost the lives and welfare of citizens.
Dr Appiah, a Fellow of the prestigious Hubert Humphrey Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholarship, is the Executive Director, National Population Council of Ghana.