Almost exactly one year after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a “public health emergency of international concern” the world is relying on vaccines as the primary solution. According to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, 10 vaccines have been approved to date, and 65 vaccines are now undergoing clinical trials.

Thus, a global vaccination race has been inflamed, with governments competing for vaccine capacities from different suppliers and planning comprehensive vaccination campaigns. Interestingly, two Middle Eastern countries — the UAE (10) and Israel (8) — were ranked among the global top 10 for efficient Covid-19 treatment, with UAE committing to vaccinate 50% of its multicultural population by the end of March 2021.

Advertisement

Successful vaccine strategies are being hailed as signs of strategic strength, effective governance, commitment to wellbeing of the population and readiness for post-Covid economic recovery. However, despite organisations and programs such as Gavi and Covax working hard to ensure fair distribution of vaccines, many African countries face huge difficulties getting sufficient allocation of Covid-19 vaccines.

Consequently, they are having worrying “deja vu” of past bitter experiences of international health crises, which they faced without the much-promised support of wealthier nations. Unforgotten is the greedy behaviour of “big pharma” during the HIV spread in the 1990s, hoarding the treatments away from poor countries, or the late supply of urgently needed swine flu vaccine in 2009/2010.

Thus, the “vaccine nationalism” of the rich countries is pushing many African nations from a pandemic problem into a complex “vaccine diplomacy” rivalry between foreign powers. By “donating” drugs, vaccines and equipment, these foreign powers aim for the favour of local governments just to push their geopolitical interests in Africa — a game mastered by China as a recent incident showcased in Zimbabwe. Lured by donated masks, isolation clinics and medical personnel in September 2020, the government of Zimbabwe granted coal-mining concessions to Chinese companies in one of the continents most important wildlife reserves, the Hwange National Park.

Fortunately, owing to international pressure, the deal did not materialise. However, it is just a matter of time until other foreign investors try to take advantage of this disequilibrium in the fight against the pandemic. 

Having agreed on vaccination as the solution for the Covid-19, the slogan “We are in this together!” is of elementary importance for all countries. Maybe, just once, we understand that this global challenge is also a real chance to come closer together, instead of exploiting the weak. After all, this pandemic has also unveiled many sustainable investment opportunities, such as in local vaccine production, talent development and digitalisation. 

Mazdak Rafaty is managing partner of Ludwar International Consultancy and SME adviser to the joint Emirati-German Chamber of Commerce. E-mail: m.rafaty@lic-consulting.com

This article first appeared in the February/March print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.