The Mastercard Foundation announced a $1.3 billion donation on Tuesday to boost Africa’s response to the coronavirus, which public health experts hailed as a significant step to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest people.
“Ensuring equitable access and delivery of vaccines across Africa is urgent,” Reeta Roy, the foundation’s chief executive, said in a statement. “This initiative is about valuing all lives and accelerating the economic recovery of the continent.”
The funding, which will be distributed over three years in partnership with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is intended to help acquire vaccines for more than 50 million of the continent’s 1.3 billion people, improve its vaccine manufacturing and delivery system, and strengthen public health institutions.
The foundation’s pledge — one of the largest private gifts made in the pandemic fight — comes amid a growing outcry over the lack of vaccine supply for poorer countries. While the United States and other high-income countries have provided at least one dose of a vaccine to most of their residents, many developing countries are not expected to have sufficient vaccine supply until at least 2022. President Biden this week is set to attend a Group of Seven meeting in Britain, where leaders are expected to debate how to address vaccine inequality, which has sparked accusations from some advocates and public health officials that richer countries have fostered “vaccine apartheid” by hoarding doses.
The Mastercard Foundation has played a growing role in boosting Africa’s safety net during the pandemic, including a previous $40 million donation to increase coronavirus testing there. Mastercard spun off the independently operated foundation when the global financial services company went public in 2006. Under the terms of its latest pledge, the Africa CDC will help oversee distribution of funding for an array of services, including workforce training and community engagement; drug safety efforts and genomic sequencing; and support for individual nations’ vaccination programs.
“We’ve all during this pandemic acknowledged that Africa is lagging behind — and lagging behind seriously — in the battle against this very deadly disease,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, told reporters on Tuesday. “We believe that this partnership will enable us to … win the current battles, but prepare for the next battle.”
The African Union and the Africa CDC last year set a goal of vaccinating at least 60 percent of the continent’s population by the end of 2022, estimating that the effort would cost at least $16 billion. So far, fewer than 2 percent of people in Africa have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, significantly trailing the global average of 11.6 percent.
About 40 percent of people in North America and the European Union have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
African leaders at a news briefing Tuesday morning said the gift would build on efforts to secure hundreds of millions of doses for the continent through Covax, the World Health Organization-backed initiative to distribute vaccine doses worldwide, and the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.
Wynne Musabayana, the head of communications for the African Union, said the foundation’s gift was unprecedented and would lead to “saving lives and saving livelihoods.”
Sources: The Washington Post