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COVID’s Aftershocks: Nigeria’s ambitious COVID-19 vaccine campaign

A roundup of the latest news, stats, and analysis of COVID-19’s impact in Africa. View our data tracker and sign up for our weekly newsletter. This week, we’re covering mental health in the face of COVID-19 unemployment, the bitter combination of diabetes and COVID-19, and the pandemic’s pollution problem.

Top news

Surge campaign: Nigeria plans to administer more than 1 million vaccines a day, starting this Friday. The surge is intended to vaccinate half of its target population, or 55 million people, by the end of January. Just 1.5% of Nigerians are fully vaccinated. The government says it has enough vaccines in the pipeline to hit this mark, as well as plans to scale up vaccination sites. But success is far from assured. Nigeria’s political and economic troubles risk making the country “ungovernable” and could imperil this ambitious target.

COVID blues: A quarter of surveyed Nigerians experienced depression or anxiety during COVID-19 lockdowns, in part because of stress over job losses. And in South Africa, women accounted for two-thirds of the 2.9 million job losses between February and April 2020 as a result of the pandemic, which exacerbated rates of anxiety and depression. Mental health disorders are the third highest contributor to the burden of disease in South Africa, but they are far less likely to be treated than physical ailments.

Comorbidity crisis: COVID-19 is four times more deadly in patients with diabetes in Africa. The region has the fastest-growing diabetes rates globally, and 70% of Africans with the disease are unaware of their illness, according to WHO. Only 14% of vaccines administered in Africa have gone to individuals with conditions that make COVID-19 riskier.

Fragile and threatened: COVID-19 has harmed the media environment in southern Africa, where many media houses risk shutdown without a dramatic uptick in revenue or external assistance. Lockdowns have forced outlets to pivot to online publication or stop printing entirely. Experts warn that this may dangerously coincide with the “weaponization of COVID-19” as governments clamp down on civil liberties and media expression. Press freedom was already highly fragile in sub-Saharan Africa before the pandemic, including the rise of cyber censorship, surveillance, and attacks.

Two years of solitude: After nearly two years of closures, 30% of Uganda’s students may never go back to school. Many of these students have been forced into teenage pregnancies, early marriages, and child labour during the pandemic. Schools are set to re-open in January, but the students who will return face significant challenges. COVID-19 testing and monitoring will fall on the shoulders of teachers. Experts argue this could be inefficient and ineffective, especially given Uganda’s serious teacher shortage. And the government announced it will not support private institutions — despite the fact that private schools outnumber public schools by 2:1.

Exponential waste: 8 million tons of pandemic-related plastic waste has been generated since the pandemic began, leaching plastic and chemicals into the environment. Up to 1.5 million face masks landed in oceans in 2020, and the threat of plastic waste pollution in Africa is “increasing exponentially.” Discarded single-use plastics can carry chemicals that alter fertility and cause cancer, diabetes, and neurological impairment. Their impacts on people and biodiversity throughout Africa is under-researched. A Nigerian environmental chemist will launch the first continent-wide study to begin filling that gap.

Welcome announcements: The US is aiming to manufacture 1 billion COVID-19 vaccines annually, beginning in the second half of 2022. This multi-billion dollar investment will help address immediate needs for vaccine equity globally, while positioning the US to respond faster to future pandemics. The announcement coincided with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first official trip to Africa. He hopes to boost US-Africa cooperation, from quelling conflicts in Ethiopia and Sudan, to combatting the climate crisis and ending the pandemic. ONE sent him a warm welcome, but we’re also keeping score on where he and the US need to step up their efforts to end the pandemic for everyone.

Good news, bad news: Pfizer will allow its highly effective antiviral COVID-19 treatment pill to be made and sold cheaply in a swath of low-income countries. That’s good news for African and Asian nations included in the deal — but bad news for Brazil, China, and Russia, which aren’t. Experts argue the treatment could change the trajectory of the pandemic by slashing mortality rates. But filling the dramatic testing gap in sub-Saharan Africa will be critical, because the Pfizer pill is most effective when administered within days of the first symptoms appearing. Currently, just 1 in 7 COVID-19 cases in Africa is reported.

Rising remittances: Remittances to low- and middle-income countries increased by 7.3% in 2021, according to the World Bank. Economic recovery in wealthier countries greased these wheels, but the uptick also corresponds with more favorable mobile banking policies in sub-Saharan Africa. Regulators and central banks from 20+ African countries dropped taxes and limited transaction fees during the pandemic, which helped boost financial inclusion. Experts argue that coordinated and consistent cross-border regulations will continue to ease mobile payment flows between countries. There are a number of other actions governments can take to facilitate remittance flows, as we outlined in a joint report with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

Calling the shots: US consumer prices increased by 6.2%, the largest annual jump in 30 years. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined a chorus of experts and activists (including us) by lamenting that “the pandemic has been calling the shots for the economy and for inflation.” Research shows that vaccine inequity is a root cause of supply chain bottlenecks and resulting inflation.

The numbers

  • $1,000 flows into Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna’s coffers every second. These companies have pushed back against calls to share their vaccine technologies to support a faster COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
  • 600 million vaccines will sit in unused stockpiles in the US and other wealthy countries by the end of 2021, according to new data from Airfinity.

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