THE Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan has offered Eswatini the Covid-19 vaccine, placing the Kingdom on the gateway to be first in Africa to rollout vaccination against the virus that killed their Prime Minister Mandvulo Dlamini who is being buried tomorrow.
The gift was announced by the Taiwan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jaushieh Joseph Wu in his virtual eulogy for the late Prime Minister at his memorial service yesterday. Wu recognized the late PM as a sacrifice that would save the nation. “The prime minister sacrificed his life in fighting for Eswatini. He proved his virtue in action, by action and deserves eternal gratitude. This is why it’s my privilege to announce that the government of Taiwan will honour his legacy with a donation for the purchase of COVID-19 vaccines.”
While the details of the donation may be thrashed out in the next few days, the gift would launch Eswatini to the top of the list of Africa countries that can begin immunization in the next few weeks, months earlier than other countries on the continent.
The World Health Organization anticipates that Africa, at the earliest, can expect to start vaccinations at the very earliest in June 2021.
Taiwan which is now close to approving a tranche of new Covid-19 vaccines, is on target to complete second phase clinical trials in the next 5 days, the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Wednesday.
Vaccine developers are currently compiling data of the first-phase trials and are preparing to start the second phase of their vaccine trials in late December, FDA official Wu Ming-mei told the China News Agency, without specifying the number of vaccines.
Access to the vaccine will be a breakthrough for Eswatini amidst growing concerns the continent is lagging far behind in what has been branded the continent’s “largest ever immunization drive”. The World Health Organization has said the African region has an average score of 33 percent readiness for a COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, well below the desired 80 percent.
The donation is highly significant. The cost of the vaccine is huge while access will be a major challenge for most developing countries.
While the United Kingdom, the USA and other developed countries began rolling national coronavirus vaccinations two weeks ago, Eswatini and and other developing countries are believed to be at least 6 months away from accessing the vaccine to stop a pandemic currently sweeping the globe. It is anticipated that, as with the scramble for PPE’s earlier in the year, rich countries, will be first in the queue for buying the vaccine, while poorer countries, mostly Africa, will be pushed to the back of the queue.
The concern has been expressed by Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong: “It will be extremely terrible to see” wealthy nations obtaining vaccines and African countries missing out, as he called on for an extraordinary United Nations session to discuss this “moral issue” and avoid a “North-South distrust in respect to vaccines, which is a common good”.
However, he stressed it is necessary to be realistic about immunization campaigns due to challenges on how vaccines would be delivered across the continent, adding that it is unlikely that this will happen before the middle of 2021.
For Catherine Kyobutungi, epidemiologist and executive director of the African Population and Health Research Center, a big challenge regarding access to vaccines is “a lack of global solidarity”.
“We’ve seen reports about countries like the US and UK securing a huge share of vaccine doses, which then leaves you wondering, what about the rest of us?”
In a similar vein, the People’s Vaccine Alliance – a coalition of campaign organizations including Oxfam, Amnesty International and Global Justice Now – has condemned rich countries for “hoarding” vaccine doses to the detriment of poorer nations.
“Wealthier nations have bought up enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly three times over by the end of 2021 if those currently in clinical trials are all approved for use,” it said.
“Canada tops the chart with enough vaccines to vaccinate each Canadian five times. Updated data shows that rich nations representing just 14 per cent of the world’s population have bought up 53 per cent of all the most promising vaccines so far.
Minister Wu explained the relevance of the gift to help the kingdom as “a gesture of goodwill that befits the dedication, energy and valour of the prime minister in combatting coronavirus and safeguarding the health and well-being of the people.”
Alluding to a relationship that has withstood trials and temptations that have wooed other African countries to embrace Mainland China, Wu said Taiwan and Eswatini are kinsmen with a strong relationship that is 52 years old. Taiwan was one of the first 5 countries along with the United Kingdom, the USA, Israel and the United Nations to recognize the Kingdom of Swaziland and establish embassies in Mbabane in 1968.
Taiwan has been a consistent source of critical support for the Kingdom especially following the surge of coronavirus-2019 in Africa in February 2020. Taiwan responded quickly by airlifting much needed drugs, equipment and protective wear that at the time were rare and in short supply globally. “We’ve worked together, grown together and succeeded together. Though separated by oceans, our two peoples remain close emotionally and spiritually through the power of mutual respect and true friendship. There’s no mountain too high for our countries to scale together,” said Wu.
He praised the prime minister as testament to the friendship of the two countries. “As an extraordinary friend of Taiwan, he seized every opportunity to speak up for the country and its people on the global stage. This unshakeable commitment and deep-seated loyalty will long be cherished and has forever earned him and Eswatini a very special place in our hearts,” he said.
Prime Minister Mandvulo became the third of the Kingdom’s Prime Ministers to die in office after Prince Maphevu in 1979 and Barnabas Dlamini in 2018.
Prince Mabandla, the third and only surviving Prime Minister delivered the King’s eulogy at the memorial service held at Mandvulo’s former church, the Jesus Christ Worship Centre in Matsapha. He said the King and Queen Mother were sad at the loss of the Prime Minister: “Their Majesties mourn with the nation and the Dlamini family for the loss of His Excellency. The Lord has given, the Lord has taken. It’s sad to lose someone so young and energetic.”
The Prime Minister, a descendent of King Mbhandzeni, will be buried according to royal traditions. He will be interned in a cave in the Mdzimba Mountains overlooking the Zulwini Valley on Boxing Day.