How MTN, AU Combat the Crisis of COVID-19 Vaccines in Africa

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On February 1, 2021, the news from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) was startling. The country’s national health institute revealed that 75 healthcare workers tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous week across the country.

In December 2020, the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) announced the deaths of 20 doctors within a week from complications arising from COVID-19 infections. Healthcare workers are often at risk of exposure to infections, including COVID-19 as first responders to patients. According to Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, at least 812 health workers had tested positive for COVID-19 as of June 2020.

There is a consensus that frontline healthcare workers are at a higher risk of infection because of their potential direct exposure to the virus, which may contribute to a further spread. Since they are the first responders, healthcare workers are prone to exposure in healthcare settings.

Despite the odds of the pandemic, they must be at their workplaces to take care of the sick. No fewer than 3,000 health workers in Kenya have tested positive for coronavirus since the country reported its first case in March 2020, according to the Ministry of Health in Kenya.

“A total of 3,068 healthcare workers have been confirmed positive since the pandemic struck. 1,571 are females and 1,495 males,” the ministry reported on its official Twitter page, recently.

According to a report published by the World Health Organisation in 2020, 240 health workers have died due to COVID-19-related complications in South Africa. The country’s National Health Department released a full breakdown of public and private healthcare workers who contracted coronavirus as of August 4, 2020.

The breakdown shows that about 27,360 healthcare worker cases were reported with 6,027 (22 per cent) cases coming from the private sector and 21,333 reported in the public sector (78 per cent). The majority of the cases come from nurses with 14,143 reported cases (52 per cent), medical doctors make up 1,644 cases (six per cent), porters (28 per cent) have 28 cases and the rest of the 11,545 cases came from other categories of health workers.

The foregoing supports the prioritisation of frontline health workers in the vaccination programme of the African Union. In a bid to fight the scourge of COVID-19 infections, the countries with the most infections began to roll out vaccines for the people with priority to the elderly and the frontline workers.

Compared to other parts of the world, Africa started mulling the vaccination programme at a snail speed. A handful of African countries such as Seychelles and Mauritius, with economies that are largely dependent on tourism, have commenced the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Guinea is the sole low-income nation to have provided vaccines, administering to only 25 people. As it stands, Africa is in danger of being left behind with countries in other parts of the world striking bilateral deals, thus, kicking up prices of the vaccines.

To ramp up the procurement of vaccines, particularly for healthcare professionals, Africa’s leading mobile network operator, MTN has announced its partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) by donating US$25 million to support the African Union’s COVID-19 vaccination programme. The donation will secure up to seven million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for health workers across the continent, which will contribute to the vaccination initiative of Africa CDC.

“The devastating impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and profound. Public and private partnerships are needed if we are to succeed in the fight against the pandemic and restore social and economic norms for our continent and our communities,” says Ralph Mupita, President and Chief Executive Officer of MTN Group.

The MTN intervention comes on the heels of the effort by the African Union to commence this vaccination programme, providing vaccines and helping to finance its rollout. It had secured 400 million doses of COVID-19 jabs for its 55-member states in addition to 270 million doses.

MTN has been at the forefront of the battle against the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic with its series of initiatives that targets the vulnerable as well as Small and Medium-Scale Enterprises (SMEs).

In Nigeria, over N1.4 billion worth of airtime, data, and devices had been donated by MTN for connectivity support to frontline health agencies including the Nigeria’s leading public health institution, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). During the first wave of the pandemic, MTN Nigeria unveiled its Y’ello Hope Package and announced over N2 billion worth of support to various government and health agencies in Nigeria.

As an organisation that is aware of the devastating effect of COVID-19 pandemic on the life and livelihoods of the people, MTN shares the optimism that a successful vaccination programme could reconnect Africa to the rest of the world, while enabling the reorganisation of the continent’s health systems.