MTN Donates $25m to AU Vaccine Program As Bill Gates Urges Nigeria to Focus on Health Sector

MTN Donates $25m to AU Vaccine Program As Bill Gates Urges Nigeria to Focus on Health Sector

Big corporations across Africa have continued to get involved in the fight against COVID-19. Beyond helping governments through provision of palliatives and medical equipment, some businesses are taking a step further.

In a unique public/private partnership, MTN, Africa’s leading mobile network, has announced a donation of $25 million to support the African Union’s COVID-19 vaccination programme.

The donation will help secure up to seven million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine for health workers across the continent, which will contribute to the vaccination initiative of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

“The devastating impact of COVID-19 has been unprecedented and profound. Public and private partnerships are needed if we are to succeed in the fight against the pandemic and restore social and economic norms for our continent and our communities,” says Ralph Mupita, President and Chief Executive Officer of MTN Group.

On 14 January 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Chairperson of the African Union, announced that the African Union had secured a provisional 270 million COVID-19 vaccine doses on behalf of its Member States, through advance procurement commitment guarantees of up to $2 billion to the manufacturers by the African Export-Import Bank.

This was a remarkable milestone in efforts to ensure equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine for Africa’s people. However, with a population of about 1.3 billion, Africa requires many more doses to achieve at least 60 percent herd immunity. Contributions by private organizations, like MTN, are therefore essential to help the continent reach its target.

“Our goal is to ensure that all those who need the COVID-19 vaccine have access to it very quickly, but the biggest hurdle in Africa has been financing of the vaccines, and the logistics of vaccinating at scale. We therefore welcome the right partnerships, like the one with MTN, to achieve our minimum 60 percent vaccination target,” says Dr John Nkengasong, Director of Africa CDC.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, MTN has made significant contributions to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and save lives and livelihoods within its African market. This donation is another example of MTN’s efforts to help find lasting solutions to the challenges facing the continent and to guarantee a healthy Africa, for all Africans.

“We believe ongoing collaborations with key stakeholders across sectors are essential as vaccines are deployed in all our markets, with communication tools, technology and digital services being vital support infrastructure for a successful mass vaccination programme,” concludes Mupita. “In the coming months, MTN Group will look at similar support commitments for the markets in which we operate in the Middle East.

As of Jan. 28, Africa has recorded 3,494,117 COVID-19 cases, resulting in 87,937 deaths according to data from Africa CDC. The rising figures as well as the economic impact of the pandemic on the continent are propelling the push to secure as much vaccine as possible.

But compared to the rest of the world, Africa has so far had a more manageable situation, and many believe that overhauling the continent’s health sector should be prioritized.

Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and Chairman of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a charity organization with focus in Africa, urged the most populous nation in the continent, Nigeria, who among others has been making efforts to secure Pfizer vaccines, to focus more on rehabilitating its debilitated health sector.

Nigeria’s health minister, Osagie Ehanire, had in December, told the Senate that the country will require N156 billion in 2021, and N200 billion in 2022 for vaccination. But Gates said the fund should be channeled into making the healthcare system work.

“There is no doubt that the impact of putting money into the health system particularly the primary healthcare system will be very high in terms of saving children’s lives.

“Nigeria should not divert the very limited money that it has for health into trying to pay a high price for COVID-19 vaccines.

“I’m an advocate for the government to have more resources and prioritize health. Obviously I’m not a voter in Nigeria, so Nigeria can decide that independently.

“So my advice is that the primary healthcare system is what is super important and that with those finite resources, you have to prioritize expenditure,” Gates said.

Gates urged Nigeria to wait on GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership to increase access to immunization in poor countries, where she is a beneficiary.

“And in that case, waiting for the GAVI vaccines would be the best thing and to put into other areas so that vaccine coverage rates, that are as low as 20 per cent in some areas, get up to 80/90 per cent to save children’s lives,” he added.

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