SAVING AFRICA: TOWARDS AN EQUI-DISTRIBUTION OF COVID ’19 VACCINATION
Perhaps it is the fact that Africans are generally known as resilient people that may have shrouded the progresses made on the one hand and setbacks suffered on the other hand from the unabating Coronavirus. The African population accounts for a little fraction of the global death from the Coronavirus. Cynically or may be factually, it could be agreeably argued that the very low testing capacity and/or lack of a central citizen information system contribute to the low numbers which may not be representative of the reality.
Most countries, safe a few countries on the African continent are third world countries, lacking social, health and economic infrastructure to provide basic needs for its population. Many of these countries have had to live on foreign aids, loans and even some have had to auction their country’s assets to creditors. Now that a major outbreak is at her door, one could wonder what happens should the veil of pretence be lifted and the reality of the consequences of the infection rates brazenly stares her hopelessly in the face.
On the other hand, countries with the capacity, that is, the first world countries have raised billions of dollars in research grants to fund the over 100 vaccine trials currently ongoing. Only one of those is ongoing in Africa and it is far from being indigenous.
The focus of this piece, centers on one question- what happens to Africa when a vaccine or vaccines is/are successfully produced?
It is hard to tell if the usual benevolence of the international community, international non-governmental organizations and first world states would come to bear in the appropriation and distribution of vaccines.
In anticipation of a possible neglect of certain geographies from the vaccine distribution chain, the World Health Organization (WHO) put out the Global Allocation Framework which aims at building access principles and allocation mechanisms for the vaccine, bearing in mind, the fact that the pandemic requires using a combination of products and interventions across all countries alike. This framework like many of the regulations churned out by the WHO since inception is merely a soft law that carries no force of law nor does it carry the authority to force obligation of sovereign states. The WHO can only at best make recommendations, but with no power of enforcement.
One thing is however certain- the fact that the only way the African continent will not be left behind is through the application of the basic principles of equity to the allocation and distribution of the vaccines.
The application of this principle is not one expected to be devoid of controversies, most especially from the powerful countries who want it all for themselves, or the capitalist who wants to hoard them all for the purpose of maintaining a monopoly or even from an ethicist who would naturally believe that the vaccines should go to the countries with the highest need for them and should not necessarily be determined by some demographical or some social status quota.
In the light of these controversies, only two possibilities could ensure a seamless and equitable allocation and distribution of vaccines; one is through Practical Common Sense while the other is based on the exercise of Third Generation Rights.
On the practicality of common sense, there must be a global consensus not to base allocation and distribution on who can buy it first and that a product supply chain is opened. Such an equitable supply chain must be built on a doubtless, openly verifiable, consensus-driven system having immutable integrity of data with no single source of control. To achieve the global optimum, instead of a national or regional optimum, vaccine access will critically depend on an information system with the highest possible integrity, capable of avoiding forces of vested interests. Thus, blockchain and distributed ledger technology will be essential for an equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Adopting the concept of third generation rights to further the cause of equitable distributions for the sake of Africa, Rawls explanation on the antinomies of duty and obligations come in handy.
Rawls distinguishes duties and norms of conduct governing the relationship of “well-ordered peoples” to two types of societies: “outlaw states” that refuse to comply with international law, and the focus of our interest—“burdened societies.” Rawls defines burdened societies as those that suffer from unfavourable circumstances that preclude them from developing just political institutions.
Although his eight rules of governance do not include a principle of distributive justice, Rawls holds that well ordered societies have an important duty to assist burdened societies. He offers three points of guidance. First, mechanisms for assistance should be chosen so as to effect a change in the political culture and institutions of the burdened society. Rawls argues that economic transfers may not be most appropriate for realising this goal. Among recommended courses of action, Rawls stresses the importance of policies and interventions that emphasise human rights, particularly those that further the rights and fundamental interests of women.
Second, while recognising that poverty and a lack of material resources may impact on a country’s ability to develop and maintain positive political institutions, the aim of the duty of assistance is not to compensate for material lacks, to equalise levels of wealth across societies, or to permit continuous economic growth. Third, the objective of assistance is to enable burdened societies to achieve just social arrangements. When this is achieved further assistance is not required, even if the society remains relatively poor.
Equi-distribution of the vaccine therefore attends that ideally everyone should have a fair opportunity to attain their full health potential and, more pragmatically, that none should be disadvantaged from achieving this potential, if it can be avoided. Based on this definition, the aim of policy for equity and health is not to eliminate all health differences so that everyone has the same level and quality of health but rather to reduce or eliminate those which result from factors that are considered to be both avoidable and unfair. Equity is therefore concerned with creating equal opportunities for health (vaccination) and with bringing health (vaccination) differentials down to the lowest level possible.
On a final note, should a vaccine become a reality and consideration is not given to Africa, apart from the immediate health effects for the vulnerable populations, the epidemic will inevitably have long-term socioeconomic impacts on both the people infected and the communities and then a new strain of the virus (perhaps a more resilient one) could breakout