MELODY CHIKONO/TINASHE KAIRIZA
IN an eyebrow-raising development, the Zimbabwean government, battling the Covid-19 pandemic, has been purchasing expensive Chinese vaccines while overlooking doses supplied at cheaper prices under the Gavi Alliance platform meant to benefit developing countries.
The Gavi Alliance, formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, is a global health partnership of public and private sector organisations dedicated to “immunisation for all”.
Highly placed sources told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that the government has passed a golden opportunity to access cheap donor-funded vaccines under the Gavi Alliance facility, but opted to spend US$100 million to directly purchase costly Chinese-made jabs.
Though Zimbabwe subscribed to the Gavi platform in February this year which has been set up by international stakeholders to supply affordable vaccines to some of the world’s poorest and vulnerable countries, the southern African country, battling an intractable economic crisis, is yet to meet the state of “readiness” required for signed-up members to start accessing the subsidised medicine.
The Gavi-administered programme, which is rolling out the Covax facility, is being bankrolled by the World Bank, Unicef, World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among other stakeholders.
Gavi’s objective is to mobilise an estimated two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of participating economies by the end of 2021.
Most of the 91 low-income economies which subscribed for the Covax facility, superintended by Gavi, have already started taking delivery of a range of cheaper donor-funded vaccines while Zimbabwe has opted to import the medicines at a steep cost.
According to myacare, a portal which assesses the cost structure of vaccines which are already being marketed globally, procuring the Chinese-made Sinopharm from the Asian country costs US$75 per dose while the same medication is being sold for US$25 under the Gavi facility.
As of yesterday, Zimbabwe, with a population of 15 million people, had administered the first shot of the vaccine to 2 783 103 people, while 1 770 352 people had received the prescribed double jabs of the medication.
The country, which only lags behind Morocco on the continent in terms of having inoculated the highest number of its citizens, intends to have achieved herd immunity by year-end.
A Gavi official told this publication this week that seven months after Zimbabwe signed up for the platform, the southern African country is yet to attain the state of “readiness”, a pre-requisite for batches of vaccines to be disbursed.
“Alongside our partners, Unicef and WHO, we are working with the government to ensure Zimbabwe is ready to receive the vaccines. For specifics on preparations, it is best to address your question on storage to the Government of Zimbabwe.
“In February 2021, Zimbabwe joined 19 other low-income economies and became eligible for financial support through the Advance Market Commitment (AMC). As part of the Covax AMC, Zimbabwe has access to donor-funded doses of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines,” a Gavi official identified as Laura told the Independent via e-mail responses.
While Zimbabwe remains in a state of unpreparedness to receive the subsidised and donor-funded vaccines, Gavi, as shown on its website, has already allocated the country Pfizer BionTech doses and Sinopharm shots through the fifth and six allocation rounds, respectively.
But, the shots, as highlighted by Gavi to the Independent, are yet to be delivered because Zimbabwe is still working on country “readiness”.
Gavi told the Independent: “Zimbabwe has been allocated Pfizer BionTech doses through our fifth round allocation and Sinopharm through our sixth round allocation.
“Vaccine doses to Zimbabwe have not been delivered yet as we are still currently working on country readiness, but you can keep an eye on Unicef’s delivery tracker.”
Zimbabwe’s glowing leap to inoculate its people has mostly been driven through Sinopharm shots donated by, or bought in, China.
Only recently, the government announced that the Western-made Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be administered locally.
Prior to that, Zimbabwe had been using approved vaccines from China, Russia and India.
Ministry of Health spokesman Donald Mujiri, however, disclosed to this newspaper that Zimbabwe has so far imported four million Sinopharm shots, 5,2 million Sinovac, 35 000 Covaxin and 65 000 Sputnik V doses.
Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, in his mid-term budget statement delivered last month announced that Treasury had so far used US$93,2 million from a war chest of US$100 million.
Last month, Zimbabwe, which has recorded about 4 000 deaths due to the pandemic, donated 25 000 shots of the vaccine to Namibia.
At the time of going to print, Treasury had not responded to questions posed by the Independent seeking an understanding of, among other issues, whether Zimbabwe had paid any amount of money to access vaccines through Gavi, the cost of importing vaccines from China, Russia and India and the exact amount of money Zimbabwe has paid for its vaccine imports.
One of the key requirements to access cheap vaccines under the Gavi facility, as spelt out by the institution on its website, is for participating countries to develop “National Deployment and Vaccination Plans (NDPLs)”.
“A National Deployment and Vaccination Plan is an operational plan to implement and monitor Covid-19 vaccination rollout in a country. The NDVP serves as the country plan and main framework for a country’s vaccine introduction and vaccination efforts,” Gavi says on its website.
“The NDVP outlines key aspects of readiness including regulatory preparedness, legal requirements for importing vaccines, regulatory authorisation for using vaccines, costing and funding: a realistic budget-including funding sources and budget gaps for vaccine deployment and vaccination.”
Some of the countries which have signed up for the donor-supported Gavi platform for affordable vaccines include Algeria, Senegal, Namibia, Togo, Indonesia, Madagascar, Uzbekistan, Mauritania and Ethiopia.
Under the Gavi platform, which prides itself as the “vaccine alliance”, prosperous economies such as France, Denmark and Belgium have donated a range of vaccines to the institution which have since been delivered to third world countries.
The initiative has so far mobilised US$10 billion to procure vaccines from pharma giants as the world races to vaccinate its citizens.
At least 240 million doses have since been delivered to 139 countries in just six months.
The donor driven group underscores that “only 20% of people in low and lower-middle-income economies have received a first dose of vaccine compared to 80% in high and upper-middle-income countries.”
Ministry of Health officials could not explain the reasons why the country had not taken up deliveries of cheap vaccines from Gavi.