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COVID’s Aftershocks: How war in Ukraine could impact Africa

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, how war in Ukraine could impact world food prices and Tanzania’s gas trade, the suspension of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, and a recap of the AU-EU Summit..

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Of war and wheat: Russia’s attack on Ukraine, a major grain exporter, could have a ricochet effect on food prices in low-income countries – adding layers of concern to the already devastating news. Russia and Ukraine provide over a quarter of the world’s wheat supply. Libya gets 43% of its wheat from Ukraine, and Egypt is Ukraine’s largest importer. The concern goes beyond food supply disruptions; inflated food prices can lead to conflict and violence. Kenyan leaders and others have criticized Russian aggression for its colonial undertones and for undermining international peace and security, at a time when the pandemic’s health and economic impacts are already hitting low-income countries hard.

Turning to Africa: Meanwhile, the conflict could impact Africa’s oil and gas producing countries, including Tanzania. Europe is turning to Africa as it looks for alternatives to Russian gas, which makes up 35% of Europe’s supply (11 billion cubic feet per day in 2020). The IMF projected years ago that Tanzania could be one of the world’s largest gas exporters with its estimated 57 trillion cubic feet gas reserves. A transition to African-exported gas is all the more likely with Tanzania’s shift away from laws deemed too punitive towards the private sector. Here’s a closer look at the different ways the conflict in Europe could impact African countries.

Taking stock: The Africa CDC called for a suspension of COVID vaccine dose donations in the face of ongoing challenges in logistics and administration. Donations could resume in a few months. Leaders point to an estimated $8.4 billion funding gap — money that’s needed to mitigate short timelines for doses delivered, the lack of equipment needed to administer doses, and the complications added by vaccine hesitancy. And let’s not forget the need to correct our global COVID testing blindspot: The most recent studies show significant differences in real cases versus reported across the continent, plus evidence of a much higher death rate in Kenya than official reports indicate.

No plans to sue*: BioNTech says it has no plans to sue African scientists for producing its vaccine. Following last week’s announcement of plans for self contained vaccine factories in shipping containers – now set to include locally trained staff – BioNTech says its goal is “to actively see to it that our technology is available on all continents.” It’s a welcome announcement, but there’s still some fine print: CEO Uğur Şahin didn’t rule out patent infringements altogether, and Pfizer, the partner firm to BioNTech’s vaccine, has made no such promise. For now, only the Moderna vaccine has been successfully replicated. Moderna has said it won’t sue over patent rights — but only “during the pandemic.” Some rich countries are acting like it is already over.

Leading by doing: South African pharmaceutical company, Afrigen, is showing the leadership we’ve been waiting for. Not only will the company share insights to support training in Brazil and Argentina, it’s also already working on a more practical mRNA vaccine that doesn’t require cold chain storage 🤩. South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia are set to get the tech needed to develop their own mRNA vaccines, and five other countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Serbia, and Vietnam) will receive support from the South African hub. In other good news, if the Afrigen vaccine is bioequivalent to Moderna’s, long-term clinical trials won’t be needed.

Better luck next time: Last week’s AU-EU Summit — the first such meeting since 2017 — was a mixed bag. The EU committed €100 million to support the African Medicines Agency, €500 million from the European Investment Bank to strengthen health systems, and €425 million on a vaccine delivery package. Good. It also announced €150 billion in investment for Africa, raising alarm bells for those attuned to Brussels’ trick of repackaging money and assuming it will leverage more from private investors — what one EU official described as “magical engineering.” The EU also sidestepped several pressing issues high on African leaders’ agenda, including progress on an IP waiver for COVID medicines, and the promised $100 billion in reallocated IMF Special Drawing Rights. The EU has promised a tech transfer solution by spring (which would take us to… two and a half years since the pandemic began). Either way, leaders in Africa are focused on a future of partnerships, not reliance.

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