Reward Africa, don’t punish it for coming clean on Omicron

Africa hasn’t received enough credit, South Africa in particular for detecting the strain early and making it known to the world



AFP
AFP

For over a year the West left Africa out in the cold. Its people were left at the mercy of the coronavirus as high-income countries pressed ahead with Covid-19 booster doses for their own populations. Greed to get their hands on more vaccines; selfishness as they hoarded them for a third shot while fewer doses reached the arms of people in low-income nations in Africa has led to the next phase of the pandemic where we might have to start all over again with vaccinations (if the current lot don’t work and the mutant escapes).

It is hard to remain optimistic in these turbulent times when the pandemic seems like a nightmarish eternity. The world seems to be hoping — against hope, one might say — that Omicron could be benign and this less fatal phase of this endless doomsday-like scenario. Experts, however, are sounding the alarm despite knowing little about the strain at this stage. Countries say they are being cautious. Nice try. People are spooked.

The mRNA vaccine makers are already predicting their vaccines may be less effective against the variant. As if on cue, the WHO has joined the chorus of alarmists and we are back to where we started in early 2020. Like it or not, this could the most critical phase of this health crisis which could make or break us. And we didn’t see coming, just like the opening moves made by the virus in China last year. This variant may or may not be more contagious than Delta. That’s all we know.

Of the 50 spikes, 30 appear to be dangerous mutations which could evade antibodies obtained by previous Covid infection or vaccination. The spikes are scary, and there are many — if Covid don’t get you, the suspense on its trajectory will. But greed is bad, blame and bans on travel from Africa are worse, and only serve to widen the rift between vaccine haves and have-nots. Europe, even as the blame lies at its doorstep, is in panic mode, responding with flight bans and increased curbs on people from the continent. Africa hasn’t received enough credit, South Africa in particular for detecting the strain early and making it known to the world.

Genome-sequencing of the new strain was done by South Africa and the announcement was made to the world. The high level of transparency needs applause and not discrimination. Instead of rewarding Africa with more vaccines and funds to combat the pandemic, the world has shut it out further which will only exacerbate the crisis. What is conveniently forgotten as we lurch from one crisis and mutant to another is the secrecy over the original coronavirus strain last year. Now, by punishing countries in Africa with travel bans, the world is disincentivising other countries where more variants could appear in the future which would only prolong the pandemic and wreck our lives and economies.


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