On Thursday morning Elisabeth, an unvaccinated 30-year-old mother of three, died overnight in Abuja after struggling to breathe. Doctors believe her death, which left her new-born two-month-old motherless, was Covid-related.
When she was brought to the local hospital she was refused treatment until a $1000 deposit was paid, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun Alakija, who is a relation of Elisabeth, told a WHO news conference on Thursday.
Before the funds could be arranged, Elisabeth had died.
“If she had been vaccinated she would have almost certainly been alive today,” said Dr Alakija, who co-chairs the African Union’s Covid-19 Africa Vaccine Delivery Alliance.
“Now is the time to address the underlying causes of inequity and inequality that have been compounded by the pandemic. We need to need to look beyond Covid to ensure the Elisabeths of this world and so many like her like her do not lose their lives because of an inequitable world.”
Wealthy countries are responsible for hoarding vaccines and locking distribution schemes like Covax out of the market, she said, while African leaders stay silent.
“While we hold the global north accountable we must also hold our leaders accountable for failures of leadership during this critical juncture.
“Apart from the leadership shown by Cyril Ramaphosa and Paul Kagame in bringing a coordinated African response, there has been a very loud silence from the rest of Africa’s political leadership. And even worse some of our leaders have seen this pandemic as a way to enrich themselves and take even more from those in need.”
Asked what the AU’s Vaccine Delivery Alliance are doing to get jabs in arms, she said “the truth of the matter is very little right now, because there are very few vaccines.”
Vaccine equity must be top of the agenda
As global leaders meet in New York for the UN General Assembly next week, African leaders need to ensure that equitable access to vaccines is placed at the top of the agenda, said Dr Alakija.
“In the first sentence of their speech they should ask ‘Where are Africa’s vaccines?’ Once they have asked for vaccines then they should walk out until the world produces the vaccines that are needed to save our lives.”
She also urged manufacturers to be more transparent on their production schedules so African countries can better prepare roll-out strategies and avoid waste.
While rich countries have ramped up vaccine donations to developing countries in the past few months, one way they can help their African counterparts is to swap places in the queue for vaccines from manufacturers, Aurélia Nguyen, the managing director of Covax, told the press briefing.
Africa passed the grim milestone of 8m Covid cases across the continent this week, with only 3.6% on the continent fully vaccinated. In Europe and the Americas about 55% of the population have now received at least one dose of a vaccine, WHO says.
Covax cut its global deliveries forecast by about 25% to 1.4bn doses this year following India’s export ban and manufacturing problems. The 470m doses now expected by Covax by the end of the year are enough to vaccinate just 17% of all Africans, short of the 40% global target, according to Gavi, the Geneva-based vaccine alliance.
An earlier version of this article stated that Elisabeth was 13 years of age and was employed in Dr Alakija’s household. In fact she was 30 and lived in the household as a member of Dr Alakija’s extended family. We apologise for the error.