Vaccine diplomacy takes centre stage
Windhoek – A silent vaccine diplomacy is shaping up in the world, with Southern African countries reaping the rewards of long-standing cordial relations with traditional allies such as China, India and Russia.
Countries like Angola, Botswana, the Comoros, Namibia and Zimbabwe have tapped into these ties and accessed vaccine donations from their allies in a bid to shore up supplies secured through direct purchases and facilities availed by the African Union and COVAX.
Last week China said it would donate vaccines to 38 developing countries as part of its efforts to combat the spread of the pandemic.
China has already extended 200,000 doses to Zimbabwe, with another consignment of similar quantity on the way, while Namibia has so far secured 100,000 doses from Beijing. India and the United Arab Emirates combined have all but availed enough vaccines to reach more than half of the population of the Comoros.
Russia, which produced its Sputnik V vaccine well ahead of the rest of the world, is making available hundreds of thousands of vaccines to African countries.
This week, Namibia’s President Hage Geingob said, “We are engaged with our friends in the international arena, at various levels in order to expedite (securing of vaccines). At present, the People’s Republic of China has pledged to donate 100,000 doses of Sinopharm vaccine and the Republic of India has also pledged to donate 30,000 doses of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India. We express our appreciation to the Governments of China and India for this gesture of friendship.
“While we wait for the arrival of the vaccines let us continue to maintain hygiene by washing and sanitising hands; wearing a face mask in public, and maintaining a social and physical distance. These are the most secure preventative measures against the spread of this disease. Furthermore, let us also try, where we can, to improve our general well-being by engaging in activities and following habits that bolster personal health.”
And the Health Minister, Dr Kalumbi Shangula, recently told parliament that: “Apart from the COVAX facility, we are in discussions with governments and manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines in countries such as China, the Russian Federation, India and the United States of America in order to secure additional vaccine supplies…
“All the vaccines that are currently available are acceptable to Namibia. The choice of the vaccine takes into consideration the availability of the vaccine, cold chain imperatives and, of course, the cost amongst others.”
In Zimbabwe, President Emmersomn Mnangagwa last week hailed China for its assistance, and affirmed the efficacy of the Sinopharm vaccine.
Dr Funeka Yazini April, the Co-ordinator of the BRICS Research Centre South Africa’s Human Sciences Research Council, says “vaccine diplomacy” is now very much a part of how nations are relating, pointing out that distribution of the drugs is now part of China’s broader Health Silk Road initiative.
“China’s vaccine diplomacy began in May last year when President Xi Jinping offered to provide the Chinese ‘public good’ jabs at an affordable price. Then, in October 2020, foreign minister Wang Yi visited every country in Southeast Asia with the exception of Vietnam.
“At each of his stops, Wang coupled promises of Chinese vaccine access with other foreign policy priorities, including advancing major projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which have been stalled by the pandemic.”
In a recent article published in South Africa, Dr April also touches on India’s vaccine diplomacy.
“… New Dehli created its diplomatic initiative and hashtag, ‘VaccineMaitri#’ or ‘Vaccine friendship’, with the objective of ensuring global exports and sales.”
Meanwhile, World Health Organisation Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has pointed out that half of the 210 million doses that have been administered so far in the world have been in only a handful of countries.
This has prompted South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa to reiterate calls by the President of EU Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen, French President Emmanual Macron and the CEO of Global Citizen Hugh Evans, for the world’s richest countries to donate five percent of their vaccines to developing nations.
He added, “Another important step is to enable the transfer of medical technology for the duration of the pandemic this will allow us to increase the production of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical products. It will also enable us to lower prices and to improve distribution.”