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Wealthy Nations, Corporate Titans’ False Promises of Fair COVID-19 Recovery Exposed, How Africa’s Inequality Deepened

Alice Atieno relies on sack farming outside her shanty in the sprawling Kibera Slums in Nairobi, Kenya. COVID-19 reversed gains made in poverty reduction, and the unequal access to vaccines has deepened global inequality. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Nairobi, Kenya, Mar 29 2022 (IPS) - Even as COVID-19 brought Africa’s already fragile health care and economic systems to the brink, wealthy states colluded with corporate giants to dupe people with empty slogans and false promises of a fair recovery from the ongoing health pandemic, a newly released report by Amnesty International report finds.

The global human rights organization says at the heart of the report are revelations of how “global leaders peddled false promises of a fair recovery from COVID-19 to address deep-seated inequalities, despite only 8 % of Africa’s 1.2 billion people being fully vaccinated by the end of 2021.”

Amnesty International Report 2021/22: The State of the World’s Human Rights finds that wealthy nations, alongside corporate titans, have driven deeper global inequality. As a result, African countries are worse off and left struggling to recover from the pandemic against a backdrop of significant levels of inequality.

Grace Gakii, a Nairobi-based gender and development expert, says fall-out from COVID-19 includes “poverty and unemployment, severe food insecurities, increased sexual and gender-based violence as well as a strained and struggling health system.”

According to the World Bank, as early as August 2020, COVID-19 induced economic downturn had already pushed an estimated 88 to 115 million people in the world’s most vulnerable communities into extreme poverty. For the first time in a generation, gains made in global poverty reduction were reversed. For instance, an UN-backed report indicated that extreme poverty in West Africa rose by almost 3 % in 2020 due to COVID-19.

World Bank’s Kenya Economic Update showed that the East African nation gained an additional two million ‘new poor’ as of November 2020 due to the ongoing health pandemic. Many like Alice Atieno in the sprawling informal settlements practice sack farming outside their shanties to put food on the table.

According to Amnesty International, many countries in Africa and the Sub-Saharan Africa region face multiple socio-economic challenges because of the unequal distribution of vaccines in the year 2021.

“COVID-19 should have been a decisive wake-up call to deal with inequality and poverty. Instead, we have seen deeper inequality and greater instability in Africa exacerbated by global powers, especially rich countries who failed to ensure that big pharma distributed vaccines equally between states to ensure the same levels of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa.

“As things stand now, most African countries will take longer to recover from COVID-19 due to high levels of inequality and poverty. The after-effects of COVID-19 have been most damaging to the most marginalized communities, including those on the frontlines of the endemic poverty from Angola to Zambia, Ethiopia to Somalia, and the Central Africa Republic to Sierra Leone.”

Dr Githinji Gitahi, a medical doctor, currently serving as the Global CEO of Amref Health Africa, tells IPS Africa was first let down when it desperately wanted COVID-19 vaccines. But they were hoarded despite high demand and urgency.

He tells IPS the trajectory has changed because the COVID-19 vaccine supply has significantly improved after rich countries satisfied their need and greed. With this sudden increment, more than 50% of doses in the continent were supplied from November 2021. However, other cracks have appeared and will continue to widen if urgent responsive measures are not taken.

“Africa has major inequalities with regard to COVID-19 vaccine distribution and delivery between urban and rural areas and between rich and poor communities. Whereas the urban centers may have reached up to 50 percent COVID-19 vaccination coverage rate, some rural areas are at below 10 percent absorption rate even in Kenya,” he observes.

He explains that vaccine distribution inequalities exist between countries and within countries because initially, countries in Africa, including Low-Income Countries, were required to buy their vaccines.

This was before COVAX – the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access, which is co-led by GAVI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and the World Health Organization – was able to supply vaccine doses for Low-Income Countries as earlier planned.

“African countries in a position to buy were able to access these vaccines ahead of others. Kenya, for example, bought COVID-19 vaccines with a loan from World Bank. Other African countries could not afford it.”

Gitahi further speaks about the different capacities that countries have to deliver these vaccines once they arrive in African countries, as countries have better health system infrastructures than others.

“Health systems capacities in terms of clinical health workers and the vaccine cold chain that ensures proper storage and distribution of vaccines in a country such as Morocco is not the same as those in South Sudan or even Chad. This creates inequality because of a lack of capacity to deliver the vaccines to the people and more so, in far-flung areas in a manner convenient to them,” he cautions.

“Today, they are sending vaccines in Africa, and it is almost as if they are being dumped, and some of them are short expiry vaccines forcing countries to hold back shipments and demand all arriving vaccines must have at least three months of shelf life. The supply is high, but distribution and convenient delivery are low in communities doing informal work and facilities that open only on weekdays when people are at work.”

Just because a country can and has received millions of doses of vaccines does not mean that people are receiving these vaccines in a manner that fits their daily lives. He says millions of doses arrive three months or six weeks before the expiry date.

Africa, he stresses, needs an ongoing increased supply of vaccines to match delivery capacities so that vaccines are available and easily accessible to all who need them on time – further emphasizing the need to match shipments to absorption to avoid wastage while at the same time working to improve delivery capacity.

In the absence of increased delivery and distribution capacities in African countries, health experts such as Gitahi are raising alarm that Africa will remain ill-equipped to overcome and recover from existing COVID-19 induced challenges and that socio-economic inequality will only widen.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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