More than 3.2 billion doses of various Covid-19 vaccines have been applied since vaccination began around the world seven months ago, but none of them has reached the populations of five countries .
According to official data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus is circulating unhindered among Africans in Burundi, Tanzania and Eritrea, in the Caribbean Haiti and in the Asian communist dictatorship of North Korea. .
Together, these countries have embraced a mixture of denial and neglect and have fallen behind in the global effort to defeat a disease that has killed an estimated 4 million people.
The attitude is taken seriously by experts in Africa, where coronavirus infection rates have risen rapidly in countries like South Africa, Namibia and Uganda.
The continent has so far recorded low fatality levels, representing 147,000 deaths to date, or 3.7% of the global total.
There is, however, a consensus among experts that the numbers are grossly underestimated, due to deficiencies in countries’ health record systems and the opacity of official data.
“We have a series of difficulties in speeding up vaccination in Africa. There is a lack of political will from the international community, but that is not all: there is not enough global supply of doses, and there are contractual problems with the manufacturing laboratories that delay the release. distribution in the poorest countries, ”explains epidemiologist Ann Marie Kimball, professor. emeritus of the University of Washington, United States.
According to her, Africans have a history of mass vaccinations that have virtually eradicated diseases such as polio and smallpox. “There is nothing cultural in Africa that makes vaccination difficult, just bad decisions by some of its leaders, as the case of Tanzania shows,” Kimball said.
Most Africans are included in the Covax Facility initiative, a kind of global consortium coordinated by WHO, in which vaccines are directed to the poorest countries in the world, which cannot afford the agents. vaccines, let alone capable of producing them.
The program’s promise is to reach 20% of each country’s population immunized with the first dose this year, but the pace is still well below that level.
So far, only 53 million doses have gone to 54 African countries, or 1.63% of the total applied globally, according to data compiled by the Our World in Data project, at the University of Oxford ( UK). This is half of what was only applied in Brazil.
According to the rules of the Covax Facility, to receive the vaccines, you must officially join the mechanism. But the lagging nations, with a combined population of 117.3 million, rejected the initiative when it launched last year. Brazil, one of those who took the longest to join, formalized the candidacy on the last day of the deadline, September 18, 2020.
In common, countries cited distrust of vaccine efficacy and the belief that they could control the disease on their own, often using traditional methods without scientific evidence. The most emblematic case, Tanzania, a country in Central Africa, still suffers the consequences of the denial of its former president John Magufuli, for whom the Covid-19 would be eliminated on the basis of prayers, physical exercises and medicinal plants .
In March of this year, Mugufuli passed away, without an official explanation, and amid strong rumors that the cause was the coronavirus. In its place, its vice-president, Samia Suluhu, took over. Although she did not outright give up on defending traditional treatments against Covid, she began to advocate science and personal care to prevent disease and began to wear a mask in public, which her predecessor did. refused to do.
“We had a distinct behavior change. I speak for what is happening at the hospital where I work, where people who come to visit patients must now wear a mask and wash their hands thoroughly, ”explains Amani Saguda, orthopedist at Benjamin Mkapa Hospital in Dodoma , The capital of the country.
Saguda, who also sits on the board of the Tanzania Medical Association, says there is still a lot of distrust in the country about vaccines, something he hopes will be alleviated with the arrival of the first vaccination agents. “The government finally announced that it was importing vaccines, and stopped saying that Covid ended up in our country. What we’ve tried to tell everyone is that you can’t go against the scientific evidence no matter how hard you have your personal beliefs, ”Saguda said.
Tanzania finally joined Covax in May and, according to a person who has been following the WHO negotiations, is expected to receive its first shipment of vaccines soon to begin vaccination. The African country of 62 million people officially only has 509 cases, a number deemed unrealistic. “I know a lot of fellow doctors who have caught the disease,” explains the orthopedist.
In neighboring Burundi, the situation is even further back. The small country of 12 million people has also experienced a traumatic presidential succession. In June of last year, President Pierre Nkurunziza officially died of a heart attack, but also under suspicion that he would have been another victim of Covid-19. His successor to the presidency, General Évariste Ndayishimiye, continues to this day without having formally joined Covax.
The official government line is that shutting down the country and encouraging people to adopt personal hygiene care is enough to defeat the virus, something very difficult to do in a region with porous borders.
“As more than 95% of our patients are recovering, we believe that vaccines are not yet necessary,” Burundi Minister of Health Thaddee Ndikumana said in February. Since then, there has been no public change in the position of the local government.
In Eritrea, ruled with an iron fist for 28 years by dictator Isaias Afwerki, attempts to agree on vaccine supplies have also failed. The country, dubbed North Korea, is one of the most closed on the continent and has recently been embroiled in conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigris region. According to official figures, there have so far been only 25 deaths from coronaviruses in the country, where independent verification of the information is practically impossible.
It is no coincidence that the “original” North Korea also did not start vaccination. The Communist regime does not provide any statistics on the number of infected and dead, and until recently it seemed to live in a parallel universe, in which the disease never existed.
Recently, however, the government of dictator Kim Jong-un seems to be surrendering to reality, and public demands have been made to local authorities about the out-of-control disease. According to the informed Covax Facility Folha, negotiations are underway to introduce vaccination against Covid-19 in the Asian country.
The same is true of Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, which is experiencing a chronic process of political instability and public security. A first shipment of AstraZeneca vaccines, supplied by Covax, was refused in May over fears of possible side effects.
These concerns having been allayed, the promise is now to receive a batch by the end of this month, to finally start the vaccination campaign. Across the country, 462 people have officially died from the disease.