Vaccine apartheid haunts the West

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THE travel ban imposed on Southern Africa by the West following the announcement of a new COVID-19 variant, omicron, exposes vaccine apartheid being practised by developed nations but which has no scientific basis of protecting them from infection.

Flights have been banned from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

The EU, UK, US, Australia and Canada led in imposing the travel ban while ignoring other places where the variant was also discovered. 

There was no ban of travellers from Belgium, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, Czech or Israel where the same omicron variant was found.

Non-Australians who travelled to those countries in the past two weeks were said to be banned from entering Australia.

Canada shut down its boarders to foreign travellers who recently visited the stated Southern African countries. 

Applying draconian restrictions to the Southern African countries and choosing to be silent about other countries where the new variant is fast becoming a norm for Europe and its cousins, shows geopolitics and not science at work. 

WHO’s regional director for Africa Matshidison Moeti, on November 28 2020, asked  countries to follow science and not emotions:“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods…If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive and should be scientifically based.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, tweeted:“The Omicron variant reflects the threat of prolonged vaccine injustice. The longer we take to deliver #VaccineEquity, the more we allow the #COVID-19 virus to circulate, mutate and become potentially more dangerous.”

Githinji Gitahi, the CEO of Amref Health Africa  posits:“It is extremely frustrating but not surprising […] This is how the world treated Africa all along the world locked vaccines from getting to Africa and now they are locking Africa from accessing the world….For anyone to think that you can lock out a virus by stopping Africans from travelling is completely unacceptable. Why is it we are not seeing border closures for people from Belgium, why is it we are not seeing border closures for people from Hong Kong, why is it that the UK now that has identified the new virus as well  has not been closed from accessing Africa, it is unfair, it is racism…”

The South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that the travel curbs are ‘scientifically unjustified’ as more countries find cases of the highly mutated variant.

While WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, calling for a ‘risk-based and  scientific approach’, it is clear Western nations have little regard for Africans.

Graeme Codrington, argued:“South Africa has one of the  most sophisticated and advanced infectious diseases infrastructure on the planet. Some of the world’s leading epidemiologists work in South Africa. We’ve had to develop these capabilities to deal with TB and AIDS and other diseases ravaging our continent. It is no surprise that we led the world in clinical trials of vaccines.”

Yet the West continues to treat us as subhuman.

 Gordon Brown, the WHO Ambassador for Global Health Financing, who was also the  UK Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010 tweeted on November 26:“Despite  the repeated warnings of health leaders, our failure to put vaccines into the arms

 of people in the developing world is now coming back to haunt us.”

The co-chair of the AU’s African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, Ayoad Alakija,  is on record arguing:“It was absolutely inevitable…Had the first source of COVID-19 virus first identified in China, Wuhan, originated in Africa, it is  now clear that the world would have locked us away and thrown away the key. There wouldn’t have been agency to develop a vaccine … What is going  on right now is a result of the world’s failure to vaccinate … These travel bans are based on politics … Why are the Africans unvaccinated […] Why are we acting surprised. Why…why are we locking Africa when this virus is already on three continents. Nobody is locking away Belgium, nobody is locking out Israel.

Something needs to be done to everywhere … Have a co-ordinated global shutdown of travel for the next month if you want. But don’t single out Africa

Botswana actually is where the virus was first identified…The Botswana government ordered 500 000 Moderna vaccines at 29 dollars per dose, much higher than the rest of the world paid. They did not get those vaccines because other people jumped ahead in the queue. Moderna supplied other countries and did not supply to Botswana and so now we have this variant … Do we know where this variant originated.”

Dr Ayoade Alakija also tweeted recently:“This is where vaccine apartheid, hoarding, delays on IP waiver has led us. New travel restrictions will punish Africa further-GDP and economic growth implications, trade will be affected and the gap widens between the haves and the have-nots.”

Why travel ban is wrong

Europe has been the registered epicentre of the pandemic from the beginning but no partisan ban was put in place for them by anyone.

Besides, viruses cannot be contained by physical boundaries and will find a way around travel restrictions, which means that there is need for a different approach.

What is the intelligibility of having African nations face blame and ban.

On the same note, the unfolding narratives of travel ban open pores to how the West contributed to the present situation.

The US is actually busy pushing forward booster shots for its own citizens who are already vaccinated.

Besides that, the US is rushing to gather data on the new COVID-19 variant to be well versed about it as hinted by the top US infectious disease official Dr Anthony Fauci. 

The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, once promised that he and the G7 countries would use their surplus vaccines to immunise the whole world but while a 40 percent vaccination was set for 92 poorest countries, only 25 percent of the vaccines were delivered.

The EU, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia; to mention a few, would have done much to help Africa but their stance is consistently xenophobic and now they have jumped to travel ban.

Records reveal that there are 9,1 billion vaccines already manufactured and 12 billion expected by year end.

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