China dominates Covid-19 diplomacy in Africa - economic report

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  • China's international Covid-19 vaccine programme is a form of aid to cement diplomatic ties with recipients, a new report claims.
  • 50% of global vaccine exports are from China.
  • South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Senegal and Rwanda are set to increase their Covid-19 vaccine rollout campaign because of production capacity.

China has won the Covid-19 vaccine diplomacy war in Africa and the rest of the developing world ahead of Russia, India and the West because the Asian giant supplies the majority of vaccines to African countries, according to a report by the Economist's intelligence unit.

At the same time, Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to vaccines, has failed to meet the needs of the developing world.

Also, international donations of vaccines remain a small clearing room for vaccines to be provided through bilateral agreements which China has taken advantage of, in which 77% of Covid-19 vaccines are used as diplomatic tools.

On the world stage, 50% of vaccines are produced in and by China.

The Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) report was made public on Wednesday.

The EIU's industry operations director, Ana Nicholls, said during a webinar on Tuesday:

Recipient governments are genuinely grateful to receive vaccines. It's a new form of soft power with China betting on resentment globally against Western countries and filling the gaps in places where western influence is declining. China is not doing this for free. It will cement long-term ties with recipient countries.

She added that "vaccines have become an ideal diplomatic tool because they are tangible, crucial for a population and a matter of life or death".

Healthcare systems, logistical challenges

To date, China has donated and/or sold vaccines to at least 40 African countries.

Figures obtained from Bridge Consulting, an independent Beijing-based consultancy, show an estimated 27 million vaccines have been delivered in Africa.

Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea were the first African countries to receive Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines from China when their vaccination drives began in February this year.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE - MARCH 16: Ambassador of China t
Ambassador of China to Zimbabwe and president Emmerson Mnangagwa shake hands at the arrival of the 2nd shipment of Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines from China at Harare International Airport.

Cameroon followed in April, receiving a donation of 200 000 doses from the Asian powerhouse.

Vaccination has been slow in poorer countries because of logistical challenges, stability of healthcare systems and vaccine hesitancy.

"In many of those countries, it's an issue about the stability of the state itself. It is also an issue about a lack of healthcare infrastructure...

Nicholls said:

Malawi had to destroy almost 20 000 of AstraZeneca, South Sudan has had to destroy about 59 000. They got them from the AU but haven't been able to administer them by the expiry date. One of the least vaccinated countries had to destroy 1.7 million doses.

Donated 'too late'

Richer African countries, such as South Africa, had stockpiles of the vaccine and donated it to their neighbours.

However, it was a bit too late.

She said:

South Africa donated several million to its neighbours, but then they couldn't be used because they donated them too late near their expiry dates.

Senegal and Rwanda will by next year have plants available to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines.

They will join South Africa, Morocco and Egypt who are already producing other human vaccines, such as yellow fever.

With a fourth wave anticipated across Africa, a third jab might be needed.

But, vaccine hesitancy is the greatest undoing.

According to that EIU report, 77% of people in Nigeria think the Covid-19 pandemic is exaggerated, 42% in Burkina Faso are of the view that Covid-19 is the creation of foreign actors and in the DRC, 38% are not interested in taking the vaccines.

 - Lenin Ndebele is the News24 Africa Desk journalist. The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

If you come across Covid-19 vaccination information that you do not trust, read Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked: Get the facts here. If you can't find the facts you're looking for, email us at the address mentioned in the article and we will verify the information with medical professionals.

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