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COVID-19: Okonjo-Iweala at UBA forum, calls for vaccine equity in Africa for sustainable recovery from virus

…priority for Africans must be empowering youths, job creation, and economic opportunities even during very difficult times, says Tony Elumelu

Dr. Ngozi Okwonjo Iweala

The Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has canvassed tackling inequality in global COVID-19 vaccine distribution for Africa’s sustainable recovery.

According to the WTO boss, the fact that Africa has vaccinated so little of its population due to vaccine inequality, is not acceptable.

Okonjo-Iweala bared her mind at the third edition of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc Africa Day Conversations 2021.

Persecondnews which monitored the virtual interactive sessions reports that it was moderated by the Group Chairman, UBA/Founder of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu.

It also featured Africa’s leaders — President of Rwanda, Mr. Paul Kagame; Director-General of the World Health Organisation(WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; and Managing Director, International Finance Corporation (IFC) Makhtar Sop Diop,.

Okonjo-Iweala stressed that Africa needed to fight the pandemic, either by getting more vaccines or manufacturing locally, citing that the WTO is ready to keep supply chains open for this.

“If we are to recover sustainably from this crisis, we have to correct vaccine inequity that is evident in the world today.

“The fact that we have vaccinated so little is not acceptable. The fact that we import 99 percent of vaccines and 90 percent of pharmaceuticals is not acceptable.

“Going back to vaccines, the IMF says if we spend $50 billion to vaccinate 40% of the world’s population by 2021, and 60% by 2022, we would be able to reverse vaccine inequity, and the world’s global GDP can gain $9 trillion by 2025.

“The numbers are staggering. Compare $50 billion to $9 trillion that we could make if we did this right. Because I’m a finance minister, we could collect an additional $1 trillion in taxes. This is something they have also talked about.

“When we reverse this inequity, we will be able to create the type of platform, that will give young entrepreneurs, and show the world that Africa and its youth can be part of the present and very important part of the future,” she explained.

On the recovery of African economies, the WTO DG said Africa needed to get more fiscal stimulus into its economy.

Okonjo-Iweala said:”To recover our economy, we have to see how we can we get more fiscal stimulus into our economies. Other countries are recovering so fast because they have been able to invest massive amounts of fiscal stimulus.

“For the the rich countries 28 percent of GDP, for the emerging market 6.9 percent and for Poorer countries just about 2 percent.

“We have to diversify our economy; we are too vulnerable to movement in commodity prices. We have seen it during this pandemic, the commodities we depend on have seen a lot of fluctuations; be it minerals, oil or gas.

“Actually the countries that are doing better are those that have more diversified economy. We have to take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to specialize most.

“I really believe in the AfCFTA. Though there are still logistical issues that prevent us from benefiting. Some parts of the continent are doing a lot better than others.

“In East Africa, they are doing a little bit better with movement across borders. That also means investment in infrastructure. We can make the movement of goods and people work better.

“We have this AU passport, so business people can get one and ordinary Africa can get so we can move easily across Africa. If we want the African continent free trade area to work, we must make good, services and people flow easily across borders.

“Lastly, we don’t really have a choice, if we want to change the tenor of growth in Africa, we must rely more on ourselves, and less on the outside. If we want to export and specialised more, to add value to our raw materials, we have to make the AfCFTA work and the WTO is expectant and waiting to support the continent to make this work.”

Also speaking, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Africa may not have escaped the COVID-19 pandemic but advised the continent not to “let down its guard.”

UBA Africa Conversation 2021 Speakers

He disclosed that 47 countries in the African continent have started vaccinating, adding that so far Africa has administered just over 25 million doses or just 1.5 percent of the global total, describing it as very tragic.

“What is happening now in most part of the world can also happen in our continent. With the support of COVAX vaccine, 47 countries in the African continent have started vaccinating.

“However the volumes of vaccines are no where near enough. So far Africa has administered just over 25 million doses or just 1.5 percent of the global total , which is very tragic.

“WHO is working to bring equitable distribution of vaccine doses. It is clear that African cannot depend solely on imports of vaccines from the rest of the world. We must build that capacity not only for COVID-19 but other vaccines of medical products.

“WHO is working with the African Union to establish the African Medicine Agency. We will continue our financial and technical support to establish the African Medicine Agency and to build a strong regulatory agency for Africa,” Ghebreyesus said.

On his part, the President of Rwanda, Mr. Paul Kagame, advised Africa to invest in one another, or at least think about one another’s wellbeing in other to create a stable and sustainable African continent.

Speaking on this year’s theme, “Bringing Africa to the World”, epitomised by the global success of the panelists’ careers, the moderator, Tony Elumelu, said the panelists have consistently advocated that the priority for Africans must be empowering the youths and creation of jobs and economic opportunities, even during very difficult times.

Persecondnews also reports that the discussions at the event focused on Africa’s development in the areas of the economy and finance, trade, health and the unity of the continent.

“Through the Tony Elumelu foundation; a leading philanthropist empowering young African entrepreneurs from all the 54 African countries.

“We have seen how our young ones, despite the COVID-19, have leveraged their talents, expertise, network to creat wealth and support the communities they live in.

“We must therefore make sure the gains these young ones have made are not in erased. We must creat an enabling environment for our young entrepreneurs to succeed and we must encourage them to create jobs that will lift the continent to prosperity,” he said.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Commonwealth Health Ministers demand equal access to vaccines

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Written by Ajuma Edwina Ameh

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