COVID-19 Vaccines: Challenges and Opportunities for Africa and the Developing World

COVID-19 Vaccines: Challenges and Opportunities for Africa and the Developing World

This blog post highlights information shared during Airlink’s webinar “COVID-19 in 2021 and Beyond: The Vaccine Distribution Challenge

Airlink hosted a panel discussion around the challenges involved in ensuring equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine. The panel was moderated by Airlink’s President & CEO, Steve Smith, and included the participation of Andrea Gruber, Head, Special Cargo at the International Air Transport Association (IATA); Claudia Roa, VP Life Sciences and Healthcare sector Americas at DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation; and Dr. Evrard Nahimana, Africa Region Policy & Partnerships Advisor at Partners In Health. 

In 2021, testing kits, personal protective equipment (PPE), and basic medical and hygiene supplies will remain scarce in many Sub-Saharan African countries, leaving both healthcare workers and community members at heightened risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. 

Healthcare systems across the continent continue to have limited capacity. Some countries are devising ways to allow healthcare workers to care for those with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in the patients’ homes, underscoring the need for adequate PPE and other medical supplies to support community healthcare workers (CHWs), community-based clinics, and mobile medical units. And with the advent of new vaccines for COVID-19, support for the African continent is needed more than ever.

As part of Airlink’s webinar on the future of the COVID-19 vaccine, Airlink invited experts to talk about the challenges and opportunities ahead in the effort to immunize a substantial part of the global population in the years ahead.  Andrea Gruber, Head, Special Cargo at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) noted that the state of air traffic in 2021 and beyond will be vital to a successful response in Sub-Saharan Africa: “When we look at the capacity and connectivity, Africa has been hit hard on COVID-19, aggravating connectivity challenges. Africa continent’s air traffic for the whole of this year would be 54% below the figure of the preceding year. The safe restart of aviation and connectivity is crucial for the continent’s recovery.” 

Separately, Dr. Evrard Nahimana, a medical doctor from Rwanda who currently works as the Africa Region Policy and Partnerships Advisor for Partners In Health, shared his perspective as someone who has been working with an NGO at the field level. “For about 1.3 billion people across the continent, we will need about 1.5 billion doses [of the single-dose COVID-19 vaccine]. We will need about 12 billion dollars to purchase the vaccines, but also make sure we have all the PPE, all the related supplies, to deliver the vaccine as well as distribution to different districts,” Dr. Nahimana said.  

Dr. Nahimana raised concerns about vaccine nationalism, noting that, “despite all the initiatives from the UN, from GAVI, to make sure that the low income countries have access to COVID vaccines, there are still a lot of uncertainties about equitable access to COVID vaccines.” 

Private sector: key actor in COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts 

The private sector has played a key role developing logistics solutions, and participating in collaborative efforts to support planning and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine. 

DHL published the white paper, Delivering Pandemic Resilience, focusing on how to ensure stable supply chains for the distribution of vaccines and medical supplies. During the webinar, Claudia Roa, VP Life Sciences and Healthcare sector, shared the main insights from the study. “The beginning of the pandemic took us all by surprise. The demand for PPE was unprecedented. Governments need to be prepared for future health crises, and based on the learnings we got when the pandemic started it’s clear that having local inventory of PPE will reduce the logistics challenges that arise during these situations” Claudia said.

IATA recently released a guidance document for vaccines and pharmaceutical logistics distribution that lists a set of considerations and awareness for different actors engaged in the supply chain. “IATA is engaging with manufacturers, supply chain partners, authorities, international bodies, to exchange information, best practices and guidance to ensure that the risks that are identified are addressed, understood and mitigated to achieve the common objective of an effective, and efficient supply of the necessary medical needs to the population” Andrea noted.

Airlink’s collaborative approach

The experts that Airlink has engaged with on this topic agree on the essential role of planning and coordination in this global vaccination campaign, and we are collectively calling on governments to develop a multi-sectoral approach involving the private sector, NGOs, and local community groups. This step was deemed essential to ensure access to the vaccine to vulnerable populations like refugees and immigrants. 

Supporting our NGOs’ COVID-19 responses will remain a key focus area for Airlink in 2021. We are currently working with the private sector and philanthropic partners to increase our capacity to deliver life-saving and life-sustaining humanitarian aid, including essential supplies for COVID-19 vaccination programs. Learn more about our global COVID-19 programming here.

Head to our YouTube channel to access the recording of the session and gain more insights into the challenges and opportunities associated with the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Picture of Cindy Rocha

Cindy Rocha

Cindy Rocha is Airlink's Capabilities Development Manager. She contributes to sector-wide initiatives that build logistics capacity and improve overall support to the humanitarian community, working at the nexus of the aviation and aid delivery.

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