The year 2020 was undoubtedly arduous for many across the globe. No one could have ever predicted the amount of damage that COVID-19 would inflict on our lives. Vast amounts of lives were lost, livelihoods were destroyed and health systems battered. Just over a year after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, Africa has finally received its first batch of Covid-19 COVAX vaccines. Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire were the first recipients of this vaccine with their primary targets being health and essential works as well as other high-risk groups, anticipating to maximize the public benefit of the vaccine.
The administration of the Covid-19 vaccine globally can be marked as the ‘beginning of the end of a pandemic,’ with people around the world reporting that it is indeed a cause for optimism, minimizing the severity of sicknesses and deaths related to it. Large numbers of people are also anticipating to travel and hopefully get back to doing (perhaps) slightly differently, a lot of things they were used to doing. However, while we celebrate the arrival of the much awaited vaccine into Africa there are a few salient matters that must not be ignored. Two paramount issues include:
It is important to note that Africa is currently lagging behind with regard to the number of vaccine doses administered. In comparison to the UK, USA and Asia, the number of vaccines given out in Africa have been rather discouraging. Thus far, wealthier countries are at the forefront in purchasing COVID-19 jabs than countries in the periphery. While countries in the West are buying vaccines in excess, Africa is still struggling with COVAX facilities which is a huge plight. Herein, it is also likely that Africa may not receive enough vaccines from COVAX to attain its set goal of vaccinating 60% of its population to achieve herd immunity.
Potential corruption risks?
Approval for the use of the vaccines in different parts of the world is exciting, however the complexity of their manufacture, scale, distribution and allocation in Africa will be unprecedented thus bringing forth corruption risks big enough to threaten the already set health goals. Some of these risks include:
Entry of counterfeit vaccines into the market
The first week of March was a rather shocking one when hundreds of fake COVID-19 vaccines were seized in South Africa. Counterfeit vaccines in Africa may be the biggest reason why people would fear or decline taking these vaccines. Corruption in some national governments may facilitate the manufacturing of falsified vaccines by criminal groups especially during the early stages of vaccine deployment due to limited supplies and huge global demand. Herein, it is crucial that the necessary quality assurance measures are not overlooked.
Public procurement poses as one of the biggest risks for corruption in most government functions with large volumes being directly involved in it. In many African countries, public procurement comprises of approximately 15-30 per cent of the gross domestic product. We are all aware of the rampant corruption scandals especially within the health sector with corruption risks depicting themselves in different ways through; giving imprecise estimates for the demand of a specific product or service, circumventing tender procedures and in some cases, government officials receiving bribes from suppliers.
How can African governments evade corruption risks?
For starters, transparency and accountability is key if universal health coverage is to be achieved. National governments owe it to their people to be more responsible as well as effective communicators. Transparent and accountable public emergency procurement procedures are integral during a pandemic and can be promoted through open-contracting, which issues people with necessary information about what is being bought and by whom, at what price and quantity.
Strengthening anti-corruption laws and policies is vital. The pandemic has driven many governments to act in a quick and nimbly manner hence stressing the importance of possessing robust corruption mitigation policies. Some of these may comprise of strengthening the already existing anti-corruption laws in place and advancing measures such as the active participation of civil society, upholding the rule of law and ensuring sound management of public affairs.
The new Covid-19 vaccines will be of very little significance to people around the world if they are unable to acquire them in a timely manner. It is essential that vaccines are affordable and readily available to countries across the globe. Furthermore, governments need to posses administrative and political capacities to deliver them on a local level.