Africa missing in WHO team to China on origins of Covid 19

By Gatonye Gathura

Africa, the only continent yet to start vaccinating against Covid 19, is also missing out in the World Health Organisation’s team investigating the origins of the virus in China.

The ten-man inter-county team which includes virus hunters, public health specialists and experts in animal health arrived in Wuhan, China on Thursday.

Members of the final team come from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Japan, Qatar, Germany, Vietnam and Russia

Conspicuously missing from the team is Africa despite the WHO saying Kenya and Sudan were among countries supporting the mission.

In a virtual press conference held on Monday 11 January 2021, the WHO General Secretary Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Kenya and Sudan were among countries supporting the mission.

He listed the supporting counties as Australia, Denmark, Kenya Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Qatar, Russia, Sudan, UK, US and Vietnam.

Peripheral Role

However, no scientist from the continent made it into the final team, possibly indicating the peripheral role Africa plays in global science.

 At the same conference, Dr Tedros, indicated dismay at the slow pace Covid 19 vaccination was been rolled out in poor and middle income countries.

So far Africa is the only continent in the world where vaccination against Covid 19 has not started and with no confirmation when it may takeoff.

In Kenya for example, the Ministry of Health has said 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca (favoured) vaccine are expected by the middle of February.

But still a lot of uncertainties remain including approval of the vaccine by the WHO for emergency use as well as registration in Kenya.

Vaccines Approval

For lack of technical capacity to evaluate the vaccines, Kenya and most other African countries, are depending on WHO certification.

So far AstraZeneca has not provided the full datasets of their vaccine to the WHO, the US FDA or the European Medicines Agency.

On Monday, Dr Tedros appealed to vaccine producers and manufacturers to quickly provide WHO with full data sets for their products to be considered for emergency use approval.

“I call for a collective commitment so that within the next 100 days, vaccination for health workers and those at high-risk in all countries are underway.”

Financial Muscle

Countries like Kenya also lack the financial muscle, to make direct procurement deals with manufacturers, hence have to wait for donations through the WHO led Covax Facility.

By the end of 2020, Covax had raised about $2 billion against the estimated requirement of $4.6 billion to provide doses enough to cover 20 per cent of populations in 92 poor countries.

“Next week at the WHO Executive Board, I will be encouraging all countries to fulfill their pledges to Covax,” said Dr Tedros.


The vaccines rollout in Africa could be delayed further by poor preparedness and systemic corruption which might see dosses diverted from targeted populations.

The Ministry of Health in Kenya for example has indicated first to be vaccinated will be 438,000 health workers.

However, the country even with support, community, casuals, cleaners, security workers and everybody else, official data shows has less than 100,000 employees.

The Kenya Health Sector Strategic and Investment Plan to 2018 shows Kenya had 68,185 health workers in both private and public sectors involving from top specialists to birth attendants, community health workers to drivers, security and even casuals.

“As at November 2018, Kenya had 68,085 health workers in the public sector and 10,626 in the private sector, totaling 78, 711,” says another document – the Kenya Health Sector Strategic Plan 2018–2023

The same plan explains further:  “According to professional associations, Kenya has 11,000 doctors, 76,000 nurses and 19,085 clinical officers, of whom only 4,000 doctors, 47,000 nurses and 6,659 clinical officers were active in the public health sector as at June 2018.”

But even more ominous; currently the bulk of health workers in Kenya, including nurses, clinical officers and lab technicians are strike.

This has put into doubt training and preparation plans for possible vaccine rollout in the coming days.

About Gatonye Gathura 142 Articles
Science Journalist

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