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A global effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Africa is underway–and it starts with health care workers

July 27, 2022, 11:25 AM UTC
For many African countries, the bigger issue is having enough trained health workers able to deliver life-saving vaccines into the arms of patients.
Courtesy of Serum Institute of India

The latest wave of infections across the world provides us with yet another reminder the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over.  

For many in developing countries, this will come as no surprise. While three in four people living in high-income countries have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccination rate falls to just one in six in low-income countries.

This is particularly true in Africa, where less than a fifth of the continent’s population has been fully vaccinated. Africa’s vaccine rollout is lagging compared to wealthier regions even though there is an overabundance of supply across the globe.

We need to recognize COVID-19 vaccine supply is not the only barrier to tackling the pandemic. For many African countries, the bigger issue is having enough trained health workers able to deliver life-saving vaccines into the arms of patients. This final critical step in the pathway to immunization has been largely overlooked until now.

With reports suggesting for every dollar invested in vaccine supply, at least an additional $2.50 would be needed to support health workers to deliver vaccines to patients, it’s clear the only way to bridge the unacceptable divide in the availability of quality health care is to invest in and empower a fit-for-purpose workforce for Africa.

We believe everyone should have the right to access high-quality affordable healthcare wherever they are. Where you live and the circumstances of your birth should not determine whether you can access healthcare.

That’s why we are supporting a new initiative from the African Union and the non-governmental organization Seed Global Health which will help to create a fit-for-purpose workforce in countries across the continent.

The initiative will develop a new framework–a charter for the African workforce–that will equip health care workers with the skills needed to combat the health challenges of our age and the threats we face today.

The health workforce will not only aim to improve long-term health security in Africa but will be an important source of job creation and economic strength for the world’s youngest continent at a time of global financial instability.

The only way to ensure everyone is truly safe from COVID, as well as other emerging health threats, is to invest in strong and resilient health workforces. This will future-proof health systems and enable them to deliver the life-saving vaccines being developed and supplied.

We need a collaborative, collective effort in which institutions from across the world come together for the common good. These efforts should only be the start–and we’re calling on other business leaders and donors to contribute to this ambitious vision.  

To put it simply, until we are all safe from COVID-19, no one is safe. And for all our great leaps in life-saving scientific innovation, these are only as good as the life-saving workers we have on the ground.

Adar Poonawalla is the CEO of Serum Institute of India.

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