23rd Apr 2021


Africa and Arab world still in vaccine race starting blocks

  • Tunisia, the Arab world's only free-and-fair democracy, at first escaped the worst of Covid-19, with infections and death rate remaining low. However, the strict lockdown imposed in March 2020 soon meant precious jobs being lost as tourists stayed away (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The vaccine race is underway as countries all over the world seek to protect their people from the coronavirus and get their economies moving.

North America has enough doses to fully vaccinate the region twice while other countries have ordered enough doses to vaccinate their populations four or five times over, which many have condemned as "vaccine hoarding".

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  • President of the Tunisian parliament Rached Ghannouchi. 'The World Bank recently estimated that the Tunisian economy shrank by about nine percent, pulling 475,000 Tunisians under the poverty line'

At the same time, vaccination nationalism is exposing and deepening global inequities.

Africa currently has only enough vaccinations for around a third of its population and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has warned that only 0.1 per cent of vaccine doses administered so far have been in the world's 50-poorest countries.

National governments have a responsibility to protect the people who elect them. That is right and proper.

Yet the winners of the vaccine race cannot turn a blind eye to those struggling to get their vaccination programmes underway, especially when such awful consequences are being borne by those who are least able to endure them.

In this respect, we commend G7 leaders' initiative in urging support for developing countries on that matter.

Tunisia, the Arab world's only free-and-fair democracy, at first escaped the worst of Covid-19, with infections and death rate remaining low.

However, the strict lockdown imposed in March 2020 soon meant precious jobs being lost as tourists stayed away.

Our tourism sector, which had slowly recovered from the 2015 terrorist attacks, had been hoping 2020 would be the first year where we move beyond simply recovery and toward real growth.

It has instead found itself once again in survival mode.

Our troubles have now moved from political to economic and social issues and to public health challenges as infections soar and our hospitals strain, short of PPE, and medicine.

Second lockdown

Tunisia's second Covid-19 lockdown happened last month, a vital attempt to stave off the spread of the virus without further damaging livelihoods.

This involved four days of strict measures and a circuit breaker to stop the spread.

This has made a challenging economic situation even more challenging. Since the epidemic, about a third of small and medium businesses have been forced to close.

The World Bank recently estimated that the Tunisian economy shrank by about nine percent, pulling 475,000 Tunisians under the poverty line.

For these people, the pandemic has meant insecurity concerning their jobs, their homes and how they will be able to put food on the table.

Having to undo the damage of 60 years of dictatorship has meant that our economy was already fragile, but this last year has exacerbated underlying structural challenges that post-revolution governments have been seeking to resolve.

80% of Africa unvaccinated by end of year

The African Union is coordinating the continent's vaccination efforts and we have every faith that as soon as it can, it will distribute supplies fairly.

However, according to Covax's estimates, only around 20 percent of Africa's population will be vaccinated by the end of 2021.

Vast inequalities have also emerged within the Arab world, with some countries already launching their vaccination programmes while others such as Yemen struggle with instability and conflict, in addition to the pandemic.

National leaders have a responsibility to protect their citizens and manage the coronavirus challenge within their borders.

Yet none of us will be free from this pandemic until it is eradicated from every corner of the world.

Tunisia, by its crucial geographical and historical situation, is a passageway from Europe to Africa, so it is even more important that this gateway remains a safe area, for the benefit of northern and southern neighbours.

We cannot allow Covid to push our countries to turn inwards. Only when the international community comes together again in common purpose will we be truly safe and be able to look forward to shared prosperity.

The rich countries of the world are winning the vaccine race and for them this nightmare is nearly over.

Yet it will seem a hollow victory when they reach the finish line only to find much of the world is hardly out of the starting blocks, and will then have to start over again to ensure the virus or its variants do not spread again, creating a cycle of worldwide lockdowns.

Now is the time to show the values of solidarity and cooperation between the world's nations, which are crucial to facing many of our global challenges today.

Author bio

Rached Ghannouchi is the president of Tunisia's Parliament, the Assembly of the People's Representatives.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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