Africa must not wait at the back of the queue for COVID-19 vaccine as it was for ARV’s – Winnie Byanyima

UNAids ED Eng. Winnie Byanyima; Online Photo

UNAids Executive Director Eng. Winnie Byanyima has said any global response to COVID -19 that marginalizes Africa’s citizens would not only be wrong but it would also be self defeating.

Winnie says the experience of the HIV epidemic in Africa, where medicines remained beyond reach for too long leading to death of millions as others were still waiting to initiate treatment, must not be repeated.

Winnie’s comments were in a statement she issued last week in regard to Africa’s response to Covid-19 pandemic, and the factors that will shape the post-COVID era. Winnie said beating Covid-19 in Africa is essential for defeating the virus worldwide considering the vulnerability of Africans and other poor nations.

“If it has taught us anything, this pandemic has shown how interconnected we are as a global community and as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, the world is only as strong as its weakest health system. Any global response to Covid-19 that marginalizes Africa’s citizens would not only be wrong, it would be self-defeating. Moreover, Africa’s citizens would not stand for it.” Winnie said.

Winnie says, there also needs to be prior international agreement that any vaccines and treatments discovered for COVID-19 will be made available to all countries and be free for all.

“While Africa does have vital experience in managing epidemics, it also has largely under-resourced health systems that are still often inaccessible to the poor, and not up to the job of beating Covid-19. Worldwide, production of test kits and essential medical supplies must be ramped up and their distribution should be globally coordinated to ensure that tests and personal protective equipment get to where they are needed most” She said.

“In Africa, that means getting supplies into our high-density townships and into the hands of our front-line medical staff, including community health workers responding to the epidemic. We also need to leverage existing HIV services to boost Covid-19 testing, isolation, contact tracing and treatment capacities.” She adds.

Winnie highlighted the need to free governments to invest in the response and to strengthen publicly funded healthcare provision underscored by the principle that everyone has the right to health.

She said, in responding to COVID-19 pandemic, African governments must guard against resources being diverted from other health threats such as HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria, which already take a heavy toll on Africa.

She also said, a strong recovery for African economies is key to building resilient societies capable of withstanding the next unexpected event and given the interconnectedness between health and livelihoods, all countries will need to strengthen social safety nets to enhance resilience.

“Countries must work to provide large-scale social protection measures and safeguard sustainable economic development to reduce inequality and mitigate Covid-19’s social and economic impacts. On global scale, countries must agree that any Covid-19 vaccine is free for all” Winnie said.



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