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Driving Development Through Vaccination

This story was originally published in African Business Magazine.

The African Business Review sat down with Mastercard Foundation’s President and CEO Reeta Roy for an update on the Foundation’s Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative—a $1.5 billion partnership with the Africa CDC and the largest, single philanthropic investment with an African institution. The Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative has set four goals:

  • To purchase vaccines for more than 65 million people on the continent.
  • To enable the vaccination of millions more by supporting the logistics of vaccine delivery and administration.
  • To lay the groundwork for vaccine manufacturing through a focus on human capital development.
  • To strengthen the capacity of the Africa CDC.

Through the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative, the Mastercard Foundation is deploying $1.5 billion over the next three years in partnership with the Africa CDC and other organisations, in part to ramp up vaccination. How critical is the vaccine situation in Africa today?

Right now, only two countries have achieved a vaccination rate of 70 percent, and only 6 countries have vaccinated between 40 and 70 percent of their populations.  Overall, Africa still has the lowest vaccinated rate of any region in the world, with less than 20 percent of the population fully vaccinated. Until all countries in the world achieve high vaccination coverage, this virus will persist. Variants remain a threat with the power to shut down markets, devastate families, and destroy livelihoods. So, it would be a costly mistake for the world to “move on” from continuing to vaccinate citizens in Africa.

As we think about doubling down on vaccination rollouts, we need to appreciate the context and needs in each country.  Previously the challenge facing many countries was access to and affordability of vaccines. For months, the continent could not get access to vaccines – even when some countries had more doses than they really needed.

Fortunately, amid the crisis we witnessed leadership and exceptional unity, coordination, and innovation at the level of African Heads of State, the African Union, the Africa CDC and  the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT).  The African Medical Supplies Platform was created to aggregate Africa’s buying power for PPEs and other essential products.  The AVAT secured purchase options for up to 400 million Johnson and Johnson Vaccines and 110 million Moderna vaccines, in part enabled by the Mastercard Foundation’s support. Now, attention must be on delivery and getting vaccines into arms.

So far, the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative has delivered about 12 million of the vaccine doses we committed. The Africa CDC is currently focused on turning vaccines into vaccinations to meet the African Union’s target of vaccinating 70 percent of Africa’s population by the end of this year. This is important not just for Africa, but for the world.

The Mastercard Foundation is planning to purchase vaccines for more than 65 million people and support delivery to millions more. How will you ensure that these vaccines reach those who need them?

Soon after the launch of the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative, the Africa CDC engaged closely with African Union Members States to map out a schedule for vaccine delivery, ensuring vaccines would go where they were most urgently needed and could be absorbed. They have also been working with countries to set up vaccination centres, train and deploy health workers, and conduct community outreach to create an enabling environment for vaccination.

Importantly, the key focus right now is driving vaccinations among young people. Approximately 60 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of 25. So, for the continent to achieve its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of its population, more young people need to get vaccinated. The African Union and Africa CDC are taking an intentional focus on targeting this demographic. With our support, they recently launched the Bingwa (meaning Champion) initiative to recruit young people as vaccine advocates in their communities. Together, we are also running an online campaign dubbed #ItsUpToUs, issuing creative challenges that encourage young people to “shoot their shot” and get vaccinated, while simultaneously tackling vaccine disinformation online. Our global ambassador for this campaign, the Afro Pop Star Yemi Alade, already has thousands of young Africans dancing to her song, Its Up To Us, which she produced for the campaign.

How will this initiative promote the importance of Covid-19 vaccines and tackle vaccine reluctance among sections of the population?

First, it’s worth noting that in many countries the issue is not necessarily reluctance, but reservation based on a lack of accurate information. A 15-country study conducted by the Africa CDC about a year ago found that on average, 80 percent of Africans would take the vaccine if it was deemed safe and effective.

Under our Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative, we are investing in community outreach through trusted messengers to ensure that people have accurate information on vaccines so they feel confident getting their shot. When we launched Saving Lives and Livelihoods, one of the first actions the Africa CDC took under our partnership was to deploy rapid health responders to countries where vaccines were at risk of expiring, to expedite vaccine adoption and administration by engaging communities.  As I mentioned earlier, there is also a strong focus right now on reaching young people, who make up most of Africa’s population.

For the Foundation, the issue of ensuring people have access to accurate information is one we’ve been focused on throughout the pandemic. Very early on, we launched a public awareness campaign bringing together young leaders in the creative and sport sectors, as well as grassroots influencers, and using multi-media approaches to deliver accurate public health information to communities in engaging ways.

The global pandemic has highlighted the importance of enabling Africa to produce critical pharmaceutical products, including vaccines. What is the Mastercard Foundation doing to help build manufacturing capacity?

The African Union set a bold goal: to ensure that 60 percent of Africa’s vaccine demand is met through domestic production by 2040. This would be a game-changer for the continent. Already, African leaders have taken tremendous strides to actualize this vision. First, they’ve established the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) to coordinate action and investments towards continental manufacturing. The Foundation is pleased to have supported the establishment of PAVM. Second, the African Medicines Agency (AMA) has been established, which will have a central role to play in harmonizing regional regulation of vaccine and medical manufacturing. Again, the Foundation is supporting the AMA, and we’ve also invested in the development of the AfCFTA Private Sector Strategy, which prioritizes pharmaceuticals manufacturing for trade.

What’s emerging is a strong network of pan-African institutions and platforms to drive vaccine manufacturing forward. The Foundation is pleased to be supporting this African-led agenda, with a specific focus on enabling the workforce for vaccine manufacturing, taking a broad view of the skills required across the vaccine value chain—from research and development, to legal and regulatory, to manufacturing, transportation, logistics, and marketing. Recently, we launched a 10-year, $200 million health collaborative with 7 African higher education institutions to train over 30,000 front-line health providers and policy shapers; create 20,000 health sector jobs; enable 2,000 health ventures to improve and expand primary health services and products; and cultivate an enabling environment for public and private sector actors to solve health challenges while driving economic growth.

How will the vaccine initiative support the Mastercard Foundation’s wider development goals in Africa?

COVID-19 reminded us of the inextricable link between public health and economic growth and development. The two work together in a mutually reinforcing way.

At the Foundation, our work is guided by a 10-year strategy called Young Africa Works. We’ve set a goal of enabling 30 million young people to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030—and young women make up 70 percent of this target. Importantly, we have also committed to driving our work in partnership with local and locally-led institutions, ensuring 75% of our implementing partners on the continent are themselves African organizations.

When COVID-19 hit, it was clear that we couldn’t realize our strategy without addressing the pandemic, which was having profound social and economic implications and threatening decades of development.  We see our Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative as both an enabler of our Young Africa Works strategy, creating the pre-conditions for economic recovery, and a contributor to our strategy, directly enabling dignified and fulfilling work by developing the human capital required to make “made in Africa” vaccines and pharmaceuticals a reality. Ultimately, however, the Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative is designed to support not just our strategy, but Africa’s own overarching development goals and agenda. That’s what matters most.