December 3, 2021

Amina Muhammed, others call for universal vaccine access to mitigate impact of Omicron, other Covid-19 variants

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 By Jimoh Babatunde

United Nations’ Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, has said that vaccine inequality could cost African countries billions of dollars.

This is coming on the heels of the World Health Organization , Friday , categorizing Omicron as a Covid-19 “variant of concern”, signifying that it could be more contagious than other known mutations.

Amina Muhammed made the call at the 16th edition of the African Economic Conference , Thursday, in Sal, Cabo Verde.

The conference brings together a wide range of stakeholders, including policymakers, development institutions, the private sector, and researchers, to discuss ways to sustainably grow the continent’s development funding sources.

Amina Mohammed, in a video message, said “Africa cannot recover from the pandemic alone, we need global solidarity.”

Speaking at the  2021 African Economic Conference being held in a hybrid format in Sal, Cabo Verde, and online, Cabo Verde President, José Maria Neves, told participants that although the world may have to live with Covid-19 for a few years, “we must act to manufacture our own vaccine and medicines to face this and other pandemics to come. We must find innovative mechanisms for financing and managing sustainable development, otherwise, we will disappoint young Africans.”

“The fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, besides being internal to each country, is at the same time a global fight, which requires global collaborative solutions. Everyone wins if the less developed countries have the necessary conditions to overcome this serious health, economic and social crisis and to leverage their sustainable development,” Neves said.

Rui Figueiredo Soares, Cabo Verde Foreign Affairs Minister, observed with concern the current pandemic situation. “It is hitting all countries without exception, hence this conference organized with the support of the African Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Economic Commission for Africa, could not have come at a better time.”

Also , Antonio Pedro, Deputy Executive Secretary at the Economic Commission for Africa, warned: “Failure to address the pandemic through universal access to vaccines will spawn more resilient and potent variants, threatening the global effort to fight the virus. The recent emergence of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus illustrates my point.”

He attributed the emergence of the Omicron variant to “an uncoordinated global response to the pandemic”. “The possibility of new and more virulent variants, coupled with imminent climate shocks, calls for a more coordinated global response to the pandemic, backed by bold and innovative financing mechanisms,” Pedro added.

UN Under-Secretary-General and Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Achim Steiner, told participants: “Ensuring vaccine equity is the fastest way to end this pandemic. We need urgent cooperation from vaccine manufacturers and vaccine-producing countries and countries with high vaccination rates to tackle this acute vaccine supply shortage. Doing so will help to open up economic and social opportunities across the continent, boosting GDP and driving forward economic recovery.”

He added: “We are seeing worrying signs of an uneven global economic recovery…Countries across Africa need new access to finance and debt relief measures, innovative financing solutions as well as more tailored support to transition to a green economy as well as the potential to leverage digital technology to address acute development challenges.”

Kevin Urama, Acting Chief Economist and Vice President, Economic Governance and Knowledge Management, at the African Development Bank, stressed how the pandemic continued to have a huge socio-economic impact on Africa. He said the Bank stood ready to support African countries as they rebuild their economies. “This has heightened the need for transformative domestic reforms. Challenges to Africa’s financing development must be tackled collectively,” he said.