The global pandemic served as a steroidal boost to inequality. The global disease burden, in particular, has fallen on the poorer nations, already weakened by the coronavirus recession. The international tourism industry – which holds aloft many developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa – will face losses in the trillions as a result of COVID. Unemployment rates among the young and low paid curve downwards, while richer economies return, slowly, back to varying degrees of what counts for normalcy. What is to be done?
It is not America’s responsibility to vaccinate all of Africa. Roughly 49 percent of America – 162 million people — is vaccinated. An understandable argument could be made about the remaining 51 percent of Americans who have yet to get the jab. What are the responsibilities of our government to convince Americans who have not yet been convinced to get vaccinated? As the delta variant bears down on the West, there are still many items left in our portfolio to get to herd immunity before dispensing mass quantities of vaccines abroad, one might argue. And yet, the United States owes a great debt to the continent of Africa. The argument for reparations for Africa is one of the most complicated ongoing arguments in international affairs. Six years ago, the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent found that compensation is necessary to combat the disadvantages of slavery laid upon the African diaspora. That having been said, good faith arguments have been made that reparations, though they have merit, are simply untenable. Still, the twin continental destinies of North America and Africa are forever tied, at the very least, by what Abraham Lincoln called “that peculiar institution” and its consequences reverberating well into today. If direct reparations for America’s role in Africa’s underdevelopment is too complicated to quantify, then how about direct aid in the form of vaccines to stave off mass death?
Leaving reparations aside, it is a monumental travesty that only one percent of global vaccines are occurring in Africa. The vaccine rollout in sub-Saharan Africa has been the slowest in the world, because of the aforementioned financial reasons. Less than one adult in every hundred is fully vaccinated, compared to an average of over 30 in more advanced economies. “If you look at investment in health – the public expenditure of health — in Europe it is $4000 per capita,” Githinji Gytahi, Global CEO of Amref Health Africa said on CNN recently. “In Africa it ranges anywhere from between $10 and $30 per capita. That already tells you that the health system is completely sub-optimal.” This is where we are now, and the clock is ticking.