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Making the Most of Africa’s Pandemic Dividend

The COVID-19 crisis brought a significant increase in government and multilateral investments in public health in Africa. If leveraged appropriately, these funds could substantially boost Africa’s capacity to respond to future health emergencies, endemic diseases, and pandemics.

LONDON – Vaccinating African populations against COVID-19 has proved a difficult feat. Whereas the continent once grappled with vaccine shortages, it is now facing a shortage of attention. The COVID-19 pandemic is widely perceived to be over, and some commentators now argue that African countries should lower their COVID-19 vaccination targets and direct their resources toward more urgent priorities, including other disease outbreaks (such as Marburg virus disease and Ebola) and routine immunization. This would be a mistake.

While current COVID-19 vaccines have done less to reduce transmission than one would have hoped, they significantly reduce the severity of the illness, resulting in lower hospitalization rates. This is particularly important in Africa, where those who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are significantly more likely to die than those hospitalized with the disease elsewhere. Yet only three African countries have reached the World Health Organization’s vaccination target of 70% of the population, with the average across the continent standing at just 24%.

But mass vaccination is bigger than COVID-19. The pandemic brought a significant increase in government and multilateral investment in public health. The World Bank provided $39 billion in new financing, the Mastercard Foundation another $1.5 billion, and the European Union about $113 million. These sums have been accompanied by global contributions through the Financial Intermediary Fund for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness, and Response, which has allocated $1.3 billion. African governments have also made large contributions.