Vaccine row remains between EU, Africa

Vaccine row remains between EU, Africa

Vaccine row remains between EU, Africa

The European Union and African leaders agreed to a “renewed partnership” at a summit last week with pledges of major investments, but Europe was accused of ignoring calls to waive patents for COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We now have a historic opportunity to look at the basis of a new kind of partnership, a renewed partnership, we want to build together,” Senegal’s President Macky Sall, who currently chairs the African Union (AU), told a closing press conference on Feb. 18.

The EU has announced mammoth ambitions to mobilize 150 billion euros ($170 billion) from the public and private sectors for investments in Africa over the next seven years as it looks to challenge Chinese and Russian influence, according to AFP.

A final declaration from the Brussels summit said investments would focus on key infrastructure including internet access, renewable energy and transport, but gave few concrete details on funding.

The EU repeated a pledge to give Africa 450 million COVID-19 vaccines by mid-2022 and offered 425 million euros to help health services on the continent deliver the jabs.

But there was no breakthrough at the summit - the first since 2017 - over a dispute around Africa’s calls for a temporary intellectual property waiver to allow the generic production of vaccines and treatments.

Europe - the home of some of the major companies behind the vaccines - has opposed the move arguing that the first priority was to build up production capacity in poorer countries.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said EU officials would hold talks in Brussels with counterparts from the AU this spring to try to come up with a solution.

“EU leaders continue to make a song and dance about the importance of their relationship with the African continent. Yet they once again put the interests of their profit-hungry pharmaceutical corporations first,” said Jeroen Kwakkenbos, Oxfam EU aid expert.

“The point-blank refusal to even consider the waiver at this summit is shameful and an insult to the millions of people in poorer countries.”

Earlier on Feb. 18, the World Health Organization in Geneva announced that six African countries have been chosen to establish their own mRNA vaccine production.

Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia were selected as the first recipients of technology from the WHO’s global mRNA vaccine hub, in a push to ensure Africa can make its own jabs to fight the COVID and other diseases.

The EU also faced criticism at the Brussels summit for not making headway on a key demand from Africa to provide it with a bigger share of post-COVID recovery aid from the International Monetary Fund.

The final summit statement called for “ambitious voluntary contributions” to add to funds worth some $13 billion already pledged by EU member states.

“The EU certainly had a case of selective hearing during the summit and dodged a number of difficult decisions,” Emily Wigens, EU Director at anti-poverty The ONE Campaign, said.

“African leaders were clear about the need for wealthy nations to step up with $100 billion in Special Drawing Rights to support the continent’s economic recovery. Instead of grasping this once-in-a-generation opportunity to put significant new funding behind the partnership, member states largely ignored it,” she said.