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COVID’s Aftershocks: 500,000 people have died in Ethiopia’s war

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, war in Ethiopia has killed an estimated half a million people, global food aid supplies dwindle, Russia seeks to counter NATO through African alliances, and a provisional TRIPs deal has entered the chat.

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Knocking on famine’s door: Half a million people have died in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia since the war started 16 months ago, according to new research; 40% of those people died from starvation. The Ethiopian government has systematically obstructed the flow of information and humanitarian aid to the region. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will make this and other similar situations worse, as the cost of food increases and resources are diverted. The World Food Programme warned of a potential 22% food price spike as it cut food rations by 50%. A pledging conference for Yemen this week raised just a third of its target, leaving millions “knocking on famine’s door,” according to WFP chief David Beasley.

Help wanted: The world (justifiably) moved quickly on a UN resolution condemning Russian aggression and established an IMF fund to aid Ukraine’s recovery. That stands in contrast to the glacial progress to set up a mechanism for countries to reallocate Special Drawing Rights to countries in need. Urgent action is needed to address the looming food crisis and the economic fallout of the war and pandemic, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The IMF has indicated it “stand(s) ready” to help countries impacted by rising food and energy prices and “deteriorating financial conditions.” But that may come with stiff austerity measures. Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga says that the country is “being forced into IMF credit and austerity programs,” and that he would renegotiate Kenya’s debt obligations should he win in the August election.

Gold Rushin’: Russia’s move to gain influence in African countries is worrying NATO. The Kremlin has quietly built security allegiances with autocrats, coup leaders, and others in African and Middle Eastern countries spurned or overlooked by NATO powers. Putin’s war has highlighted why: Some African nations provide rare minerals to bolster Russia’s heavily sanctioned war chest. Russia’s courting doesn’t end there. Insiders told Aftershocks that as many as 20 African leaders could attend Putin’s Russia-Africa Summit this summer. The US and EU’s influence in Africa has been on the decline. Some diplomats speculate that African leaders may perceive the US and Western European powers as unreliable partners (perhaps spurred by a lackluster international pandemic response 👀).

Riding the waives: provisional deal agreed this week could waive patent rights for COVID vaccines for low- and middle-income countries that export less than 10% of the world’s doses. The compromise leaves therapeutics, diagnostics, and technology transfer off the table – all of which are critical to the pandemic response. World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala praised the move, but noted that all 164 member countries need to back it for the deal to advance. Critics say pharma has already extracted its exceptional profits from vaccines and will now do the same with therapeutics.

Double déjà vu: China shuttered non-essential businesses in the manufacturing powerhouse region of Shenzhen amid the country’s worst COVID spike since 2020. Last summer’s month-long closure of Shenzhen’s Yantian port, the fourth largest in the world, precipitated chaos in the global supply chain that took months to ease. And while officials say that the port is operating normally, the nearly 5-fold increase of ships waiting to dock outside Shenzhen could be a warning sign for more supply chain woes to come. Meanwhile, China’s ties to Russia and increased regulatory pressure triggered a massive stock sell-off, reminiscent of the 2008 crash. Two global crises are enough, please and thank you.

Not over it: The coronavirus, not politicians or the public, will decide when the pandemic is over. COVID deaths in Hong Kong skyrocketed nearly 280% between February and March, largely credited to low vaccination rates among vulnerable populations. Cases are also rising in parts of Europe, and Tunisia saw a 214% case spike in just one week. It’s too soon to tell what this could mean for the rest of Africa and the world – beyond the supply chain implications in China – but it’s a sure sign that COVID isn’t over.

Diverging paths: While many wealthy countries appear focused on reducing COVID testing and protections, African countries are preparing to fight the disease long term by securing tests, improving vaccine delivery, and building infrastructure. The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator could…ahem…accelerate this effort, but not without gas in the tank: it currently has a $16 billion funding gap. Low- and middle-income countries need 700 million tests, drugs to treat 120 million patients, and PPE for 1.7 million health workers. Healthcare infrastructure to mitigate future pandemics could cost as much as $15 billion a year.

Reputation recovery?: Mounting evidence suggests that Johnson & Johnson’s COVID vaccine prevents infections, hospitalizations, and deaths on par with mRNA vaccines. Good news for a vaccine that many falsely viewed as inferior to Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines. It’s also good news for South Africa’s Aspen Pharmacare, which just struck a deal with J&J to manufacture the vaccine for African use. African countries – which *ahem* have a vaccination rate of just 14% 🚨 – favor J&J’s relative ease of transport, storage, and single-dose administration. But they have harbored concerns about its efficacy and possible (rare) side effects. Meanwhile, the Africa CDC signed a memorandum of understanding with Pfizer to secure antiviral COVID pills.

The numbers

More reads

  • ONE’s Executive Policy Director David McNair spoke with The Currency about why African countries are cautious about taking sides on Ukraine.
  • The aftershocks of Putin’s war mean economic support for African countries matters more than ever, David McNair wrote in the Irish Times.
  • Russia wins some sympathy in Africa and the Middle East – here’s a detailed look at where, and why, its influence persists. (The Economist)
  • High-ranking Chinese official Hu Wei thinks Putin’s war will strengthen US influence on the global stage. (US-China Perception Monitor)
  • Theodore Murphy proposes that Europe build alliances with natural African allies to counter Russia’s growing influence in the region. (ECFR)
  • Anne Applebaum outlines a clear-eyed strategy for combating dictators: fight kleptocracy and disinformation. (The Atlantic)
  • Vaccination efforts in Africa are complicated by the random mix of vaccines received. (The New York Times)
  • Cara Anna explores how COVID complicated international efforts to end female genital mutilation. (LA Times)

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