TACOMA, Washington — Governments must work at a global level to contain the spread of COVID-19 to ensure the safety of every country and its population. Because of this, it is vitally important to maintain international support for countries lacking the resources to combat the virus. Thankfully, Rep. Karen Bass [D-CA-37] has introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would support one such region’s fight against COVID-19. H.Res.245, which was introduced in March, calls for “renewed, decisive, and robust international collaboration and coordination to fight COVID-19 across Africa.” The proposed bill includes measures that would work to increase financial support for equitable vaccine distribution through programs such as the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, along with efforts that would address the impacts the pandemic has had on education and poverty in Africa through encouraging international and bilateral partnerships.
COVID-19 In Africa
As of July 27, Africa has recorded more than 6,515,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 164,000 people have died. These numbers, however, may be significantly underreported, due to varying testing capabilities in countries across the continent. South Africa has experienced the highest numbers in the region, with more than 2,383,490 cases and 70,018 deaths. Experts have partially attributed these high numbers to a variant of COVID-19 first recorded in October of 2020. The risk of further mutations is one of the reasons that a global response to COVID-19 in Africa is vital.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Africa Centers for Disease Control expressed concern about the continent’s shortage of professional healthcare workers. In addition, in Africa, many countries’ healthcare systems lack support. While governments and people across the region stepped up to the fight against COVID-19 in Africa, shortages of equipment, facilities, treatments and personnel continue to pose challenges.
Vaccine Shortage in Africa
With a combined population of 1.3 billion people, only 17 million doses of vaccines have been administered in Africa, as of April 2021. The international distribution of vaccines remains a crucial part of combatting COVID-19, but it has been unequal in execution. Despite making up only 16% of the world’s population, wealthy countries hold 60% of the global vaccine supply. This leaves low-income regions, such as those in Africa, at a severe disadvantage and under a greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
The pandemic has also hurt the development of many African countries, which are experiencing economic challenges pushing more people into poverty and food insecurity. Moreover, ongoing conflict, displacement and drought further exacerbates the situation, which increases the difficulty in providing aid and stopping the spread of the virus.
COVID-19 has also affected education, forcing schools to close down and limiting access to education for children across the continent. Due to gaps in technology accessibility, some children have no other access to education except for in-person classes. Additionally, by not attending school, vulnerable children develop a higher risk of child labor and forced marriage.
How H.Res.245 Can Help
The bill proposed to Congress includes provisions that would work to increase support for African countries’ pandemic responses. A key part is the bill’s call for a renewal in commitment to global vaccination efforts such as COVAX, which works to provide COVID-19 vaccines to low-income countries. Global vaccination programs can help fight COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. Furthermore, limiting the spread of the virus internationally will also reduce the threat posed by the virus to other countries.
H.Res.245 also encourages economic support from the U.S. and other G-20 countries to fight COVID-19 in Africa. It calls for greater contributions to the International Monetary Fund. The proposed bill also encourages G-20 nations to partner directly with African countries and non-governmental organizations to improve conditions on the ground in Africa. This bill could be a crucial step in supporting Africa during the pandemic and ensuring that every country will be able to contain COVID-19 and recover.
– Nicole Ronchetti