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Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine Diplomacy in Africa

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COVID-19 Vaccine

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

Last December, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted to the official website for the public reading its end-of-year report. The report offered the most significant activities and achievements, among them was the striking theme on Covid-19.

The report says in part: “Russia has contributed to the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and to overcome its consequences. Registration of the Sputnik V vaccine was ensured in 71 countries, significant volumes of domestic vaccines were supplied abroad, and agreements were reached on the localization and expansion of the production of Russian drugs in various regions of the world.”

The unexpected outbreak of the coronavirus in December 2019 made many governments, organizations and health institutions still struggling for scientific solutions to the epidemiological situations express solidarity and call for closer bilateral cooperation in the sphere of health.

Some countries showed practical concern by making quick deliveries of medications and diagnostic materials, immune-biological preparations and medical equipment. Besides that, scientists were on their toes looking for appropriate COVID-19 vaccines.

In the process, Russia was the first to reach the goalpost. In less than a year, precisely on August 11, 2020, Russia became the first country to register a coronavirus vaccine named Sputnik V, developed by the Gamaleya Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Russian Foreign Ministry report last December says Sputnik V was registered in 71 countries. While it is yet to get final approval from World Health Organization (WHO), it is currently registered under the emergency use authorization procedure, according to the statement from the RDIF website. The RDIF is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy.

President Vladimir Putin has oftentimes praised the entire healthcare system, and particularly the hard-working team of scientists and specialists from different institutions for their efforts at research and creating a series of vaccines for use against the coronavirus both at home and abroad.

As the Foreign Ministry, the end-of-year report indicated, a quarter of the figure cited of foreign countries that registered Russian vaccine are in Africa. Algeria was the first African country to register the Russian vaccine. Ministry of Pharmaceutical Industry of Algeria registered Sputnik V on 10 January 2021 as follows from a post on their official Twitter account. Reportedly, the vaccine registered in the following African countries: Algeria, Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

Experts say that such a step is necessary for Russia to reassert its geopolitical influence and already engage in keen competition with other foreign players on the continent. However, a majority of African countries, where Sputnik V was registered, could not get supplies to purchase as promised.

Admittedly, Russia faces vaccine production challenges to meet the increasing market demand and to make prompt delivery on its pledges to external countries. As vaccine production and distribution intensifies, rivalry and competition strengthen and the fight for market share and its associated disinformation abound worldwide.

An official media release in mid-February 2021 said that the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team – set up by the African Union (AU) to acquire additional vaccine doses so that Africa can attain a target immunization of 60% – received an offer of 300 million Sputnik V vaccines from the Russian Federation. It was further described as a special offer from Russia.

As explained by John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC): “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

Russia never delivered the 300 million vaccines. Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat visited Moscow in mid-November. During their joint media conference after the closed-door meeting, Minister Sergey Lavrov, of course, reaffirmed that Russia would continue rendering assistance to various African countries through various multilateral organizations and bilateral channels.

“In response to a request from African Union members, Russia provided aid to almost 20 states by supplying them with vaccines, medications, and individual protective gear, and by sending qualified specialists,” he explained. Sergey Lavrov and his counterpart Moussa Faki Mahamat however maintained silence over the offer of 300 million doses that were highly expected through the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team of the African Union.

In the Situation Analytical Report on Russia-Africa, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and was released last November, Russia’s consistent failure in honouring its several pledges over the years was vividly highlighted. The report decried the increased number of bilateral and high-level meetings that yield little or no definitive results.

“In many cases and situations, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, unapproved projects are announced as going ahead. Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is an example. Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers often failed to meet its contractual obligations on time,” says the report.

On a bilateral basis, Russia has made some vaccine deliveries, but only to its preferred countries including North Africa (Algeria Morocco and Egypt), East Africa (Ethiopia), in Southern Africa (Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe) and West Africa (Guinea). Media reports say South Africa has rejected Sputnik V donations.

Early December, President Vladimir Putin held a telephone conversation with the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. According to the official Kremlin transcript, “the presidents agreed to join efforts in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, in particular in view of the newly identified Omicron strain, and further discussed interaction within BRICS.” Thereafter, Kremlin dispatched Russian specialists to join the research of the Omicron strain in South Africa.

During the end-of-year media conference, Putin emphasized: “This struggle continues, and we are aware of the dangers that Omicron, this new strain, poses. As you may know, a group of Russian scientists and experts is now in South Africa, where their colleagues actually discovered this new strain. Once again, I would like to thank our colleagues from South Africa.”

The December phone conversation took place against the backdrop of the current entry restrictions on travellers from southern African countries, due to the spread of a new Covid-19 variant (new B.1.1.529 variant). With the outbreak of Omicron, external countries have imposed restrictions on entry into their territories from southern African countries including Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and South Africa.

Russia’s drive to share the Sputnik V vaccine offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. The authorities have oftentimes said that they would step up efforts for fruitful cooperation in combating coronavirus in Africa.

Last year Russia, through its Russian Direct Investment Fund, attempted to sell the vaccines to a number of African countries through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, from the Monarch family and a third party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The Republic of Ghana reportedly signed a $64.6 million contract for the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. It was double the price from the producer as reported in local Russian media.

Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, Director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is how are they going to implement production and delivery?”

In mid-December, TASS News Agency reported that the Russian Sputnik V vaccine was likely to be supplied to African countries free of charge, and quoted CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriev who had told the Rossiya-1 TV Channel. “The first batches are likely to be delivered to African countries since there is a very high incidence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant,” CEO Dmitriev told the TV Channel.

Referring to the Situation Analytical Report on Russia-Africa, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking was listed among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Interestingly Russians attempt to reclaim its stature as a global power and show that it is a key player, but evidence-based researches into Russia’s growing presence in Africa is however limited, particularly from the African perspective.

This aspect of dating and promising has become part of its post-Soviet diplomacy. What makes matters worse is that Russia simply do not promptly deliver on it promises and pledges with African countries. It has become part of its policy approach full of inconsistencies and full of first-class symbolism – these experts rightly listed among the main flaws in its African policy in the November report.

What’s more significant throughout last year, nearly all African countries received Covid-19 vaccines from the global COVAX scheme. This is due to the basic fact that they have lagged behind the rest in the world, and have to scramble for vaccines and always welcome donations from friendly governments from the western world and Europe.

While the pandemic ranges on, Africa really needs the developed world, as it has no vaccine of its own. It is far behind the rest of the world in terms of acquisition and inoculations. Africa remains resolute at ensuring the welfare of the entire population, while the African Union, regional blocs and individual governments make frantic efforts to acquire adequate vaccines through bilateral and multilateral agencies, and especially through COVAX.

On the other hand, the continent is witnessing an increased geopolitical rivalry for influence including competition over generosity. For many African countries, it is time to reflect as the pandemic has exposed the weaknesses in their health system. With its abundant resources, Africa still remains the world’s poorest and least developed continent, and worse with poor development policies. Amid all challenges, it is time to prioritize and focus on sustainable development.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization has reminded us that the pandemic struck at a time of rapid transformation for Africa. According to him, “many African countries have low levels of coverage of health services, and when health is at risk, everything is at risk” especially this challenging time when governments have to get together to save lives around the world.

World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic since March 2020. South Africa accounts for the biggest number of Africa’s coronavirus cases. The overall number of Covid-19 cases in Africa stands at least 9,741,000 reported infections and 228,000 reported deaths caused by the novel coronavirus in Africa in late December, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

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WHO, Edo Intensify Response to Combat Monkeypox

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Monkeypox virus

By Adedapo Adesanya

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Edo State government have intensified a coordinated response to contain the spread of the Monkeypox disease.

So far, Nigeria has reported 357 suspected cases with 133 confirmed monkeypox cases from 25 states – Lagos, Adamawa, Delta, Rivers, Edo, Bayelsa, Nasarawa Plateau FCT, Ondo, Anambra Cross River, Kwara, Borno, Taraba, Oyo, Imo, Kano, Katsina, Gombe, Niger Ogun, Kogi, Bauchi, Akwa Ibom and Abia.

Meanwhile, eight persons have so far tested positive for monkeypox in Edo state, and all the people diagnosed with the disease have recovered.

The Director, Public Health, Edo State Ministry of Health, Dr Ojeifo Stephenson, said it has become imperative to warn the residents of the state about the health risks that the virus poses and reiterate the need to be cautious and adhere to preventive measures.

He said the state Ministry of Health with support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, has ramped up surveillance, diagnostics and other activities to curb the spread of infectious diseases.

“We have stepped up surveillance including prompt investigation of suspected cases, facilitating documentation of contacts, contact tracing and monitoring, as well as developed and disseminated public health advisory to raise awareness about the disease among residents of the state,” he said.

Additionally, Dr Benson Okwara, who works at UBTH, said WHO has been an invaluable partner in the response to monkeypox diagnosis and treatment in the facility.

Dr Okwara has five years of experience in managing patients with monkeypox.

He lamented that the disease spreads within the communities because of the poor health-seeking behaviour and late presentation of the case to the hospital.

“However, with WHO’s coordination, there is an early response following notification of suspected/confirmed cases with detailed case investigations using the monkeypox case investigation form (CIF) to collect data on patient contacts.

“There is a need for continuous risk messaging to educate people about infectious diseases and the importance of seeking medical care early and at appropriate health facilities to prevent the spread of diseases,” he said.

Across Nigeria, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), supported by WHO, has activated Monkeypox Emergency Operations Centre to strengthen in-country preparedness and contribute to the global response to the outbreak.

Furthermore, WHO is supporting the coordination of technical assistance and operational support of partners, including the national One-health risk surveillance and information sharing (NOHRSIS) group, to facilitate timely information exchange on all prioritized zoonotic diseases.

Monkeypox is a zoonotic disease endemic in Nigeria and some parts of Africa.

However, there has been sporadic spread to other countries as more than 16,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported across more than 70 countries so far this year, and the number of confirmed infections rose 77 per cent from late June through early July.

The virus is being transmitted from animals to humans.

Recently, WHO activated its highest alert level for the growing monkeypox outbreak, declaring the virus a public health emergency of international concern.

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WHO to Help Nigeria Achieve NHIA Act 2022 Objectives

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world health organization WHO

By Adedapo Adesanya

The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed its desire to support Nigeria in operationalising the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) Act 2022 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2022.

WHO’s Country Representative (WR), Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, made this pledge during a high-level meeting with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, the Director General, National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Professor Mohammed Sambo, and a team of WHO Health Financing Mission delegates from the WHO Geneva, Africa Regional Office, and Nigeria.

The first ever high-level WHO Health Financing Mission to Nigeria, led by Dr Joseph Kutzin, was scheduled to provide sustainable health financing support to the country towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and health security while undertaking targeted advocacy to accelerate operationalization of the NHIA Act including the Vulnerable Group Fund (VGF).

This is in line with WHO’s goal of ensuring that all individuals and communities receive the quality health services they need without suffering financial hardship.

Dr Mulombo said President Buhari’s signing of the NHIA Bill into law will make health insurance mandatory for all legal residents in Nigeria and expands coverage to over 83 million poor and vulnerable people.

He expressed the optimism that government will prioritize immediate appropriation of the Special Intervention Fund in the Act to establish the Vulnerable Group Fund.

“Indeed, the task of ensuring that all citizens have access to the quality healthcare they need without falling into poverty is a deliberate political decision to achieve the cardinal objectives of population coverage, service coverage, and financial protection. I have no doubts that in a large federal nation like Nigeria, this milestone of appropriating the Special Intervention Fund will be achieved in the 2023 fiscal year”, he said.

In his remarks, Mr Mustapha appreciated WHO as the foremost development partner to Nigeria on health and lauded WHO’s invaluable guidance, particularly on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“WHO has demonstrated that it is an organization that cares for and caters for the health needs of the people. On the NHIA, let me commend the DG for his tenacity and determination to have this Act come to fruition. I want to thank WHO and other partners who supported in the drafting of the Bill. This modest attempt has provided basic health insurance coverage to the vulnerable, and making it mandatory will go a long way in assisting our people to manage their income and remain at work in terms of the depressed economy we are witnessing”.

The SGF further expressed the government’s commitment to appropriate the Special Intervention Fund (SIF) in the 2023 national budget for the establishment of the Vulnerable Group Fund (VGF).

“No family in Nigeria has economically survived catering for any of their own suffering from cancer. The health of our people is therefore topmost on our priorities despite competing demands”, he stated.

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Monkeypox: Russians Are Back With Cheap Health Publicity

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Monkeypox Test cheap health publicity

By Kestér Kenn Klomegâh

With rising cases of the monkeypox virus, Russians are back seeking again cheap health publicity in Africa. Just as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov completed his four African-nation tours, Russia plans to send monkeypox test kits to Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo.

Russian consumer health watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said in a media statement that Russian test systems to diagnose monkeypox would be provided to Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia, and the Republic of Congo at the end of July.

“Rospotrebnadzor is continuing to extend support to partner countries’ efforts to counter the spread of monkeypox. Test systems produced by Rospotrebnadzor’s Vector Research Center will be handed over to Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia, and the Republic of Congo at the end of July,” the press service said.

“Furthermore, Rospotrebnadzor specialists are arranging special workshops for colleagues from partner countries that deal with laboratory methods to diagnose monkeypox,” it said.

Rospotrebnadzor said earlier that the Vector Research Center had produced monkeypox test kits, and such testing is currently available in all Russian regions.

Monkeypox is a rare infectious disease, most common in remote parts of Central and West Africa. Its symptoms include nausea, fever, rash, itch and muscle pain.

On July 12, Rospotrebnadzor announced the first national case of monkeypox: the patient had returned from Portugal. His symptoms were mild and did not endanger the patient’s life. Rospotrebnadzor said that all his contacts had been promptly identified and were under medical monitoring. The threat of spread has been contained.

Faced with a surge in monkeypox cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) has already declared the outbreak of monkeypox as a global health emergency — the highest alarm it sounded. Monkeypox has affected over 15,800 people in 72 countries, according to a tally by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published on July 20.

WHO, however, warned against discrimination. “A failure to act will have grave consequences for global health,” Lawrence Gostin, the director of the WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, said on Twitter.

Some experts have asked why Russians have not chosen African countries such as Nigeria, or regions such as Central and West Africa where the virus is currently spreading most. But have listed as priority countries that Sergey Lavrov visited on 24-27 July: Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo.

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