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Africa not source of COVID-19, shouldn’t be punished over new variants- AfDB president

AfDB Adesina

*WHO cautions against travel bans that target Africa

President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, has advised world leaders not to label or penalise African nations for new COVID-19 variants and mutations happening across the world.

Adesina, one of the strong advocates of equity in vaccine distribution, said this in a series of tweets on Sunday in the wake of the new COVID-19 variant spreading and causing panic.

On Thursday, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) announced the discovery of the new variant of coronavirus, known as B.1.1.529. The World Health Organisation (WHO) later tagged it “Omicron” and designated it a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC) because of its “concerning” number of mutations.

Scientists had said the new Omicron could evade the body’s immune response, making it more transmissible.

Apart from South Africa, the new variant has been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel, United Kingdom, and Hong Kong. Since the discovery, many nations have rushed to place travel restrictions on South Africa and other countries in the region.

The AfDB president said Africa is not the source of the COVID-19 pandemic and should not be penalised for new variants, urging for global justice, equity, and fairness in access to vaccines.

“Africa should not be labelled and penalized for COVID-19 variants and mutations that occur randomly elsewhere in the world. Africa is not the source of COVID-19.

“There must be global justice, equity & fairness in access to vaccines. Global vaccine supply system has underserved Africa. Protecting one’s home alone in the midst of a forest fire does not work. Put out the forest fire.

“Africa must accelerate the manufacturing of its own vaccines & set up its own “healthcare security defence system”. Africa must no longer outsource the health security of its 1.8 billion people to the benevolence of others.”

“Africa should not be labelled and penalized for COVID-19 variants and mutations that occur randomly elsewhere in the world. Africa is not the source of COVID-19,” he tweeted.

On Saturday, South Africa also said it was being punished for its advanced ability to detect new COVID-19 variants. The African nation said the travel bans and restrictions imposed would affect its economy.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said through its regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, that putting in place travel bans that target Africa in view of the new COVID-19 variant attacks global solidarity

Ms Moeti, in a statement Sunday evening, said travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.

“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity. COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions,” she said.

According to Ms Moeti, “if restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations.”

She commended the transparency of South African and Botswana, adding that they shared life-saving public health information.

“The speed and transparency of the South African and Botswana governments in informing the world of the new variant is to be commended. WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to boldly share life-saving public health information, helping protect the world against the spread of COVID-19.

“This week, nations will be joining a special session of the World Health Assembly, organised by WHO to discuss how to collectively prepare and respond better to pandemics, building on their commitments to the International Health Regulations,” the official said.

She urged all countries to respect their legal obligations and implement scientifically based public health actions, adding, “It is critical that countries which are open with their data are supported as this is the only way to ensure we receive important data in a timely manner.”

“While investigations continue into the Omicron variant, WHO recommends countries to take a risk-based and scientific approach and put in place measures which can limit its possible spread.

Flight bans have been imposed on southern African countries, but so far only two have detected the new variant. Meanwhile, countries in other regions have reported cases of Omicron.”

WHO said it is scaling up support to genomic sequencing in Africa. Sequencing laboratories should have access to adequate human resources and testing reagents to work at full capacity, the statement read.

“WHO is ready to support the additional human resource needs as well as mobilize funds and technical expertise to reinforce COVID-19 response activities including surveillance, treatment and infection prevention and community engagement in southern African countries.”

In addition, the WHO said it is reaching out to all countries in the region to ensure they receive the necessary resources to detect and prepare for potential cases of Omicron.

The global health agency urged countries to take key steps to enhance efforts to track the Omicron variant, including ensuring their PCR testing equipment can detect it, increasing their sampling and sequencing of COVID-19 test samples by at least double to 150 samples a week from the current average of 75, and review past sequencing samples for potential signs of Omicron.

In September 2020, WHO and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention launched a network of 12 laboratories to reinforce genome sequencing of the virus. Genomic surveillance has advanced significantly since the start of 2021, with the continent recording a five-fold increase in the number of genomes sequenced.

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