/ 8 September 2021

Ramaphosa says ‘vaccine apartheid’ means Africa and the Caribbean must work together

President Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo/Ruvan Boshoff, Reuters

President Cyril Ramaphosa says co-operation and solidarity among African and Caribbean countries is essential if they are not to suffer various forms of exclusion from the global arena.

Ramaphosa told the inaugural summit of AU and Caribbean Community (Caricom) heads of state and government, held virtually because of the Covid-19 pandemic, that the nations’ common heritage “should encourage us to deepen our engagement, strengthen trade investment, collaborate in research and development, and share expertise and knowledge”.

Caricom is an association of 15 countries across the Caribbean working together to promote economic integration and co-ordinate foreign policy, with a view to equitable development.

“Just as we share a common history, we also have common challenges and we are dealing with the devastating human, social, political and economic effects of Covid-19 pandemic,” Ramaphosa said.

“And we are all working to overcome the effects of colonialism and underdevelopment by building inclusive economies and creating more opportunities for our people.”

Earlier this year, African countries struggled to procure Covid-19 vaccines as rich countries hogged the drugs, leading to campaigners and scientists warning that the world was on course for “vaccine apartheid”, in which people living in the Global South were inoculated years after those in the West.

On Tuesday, Ramaphosa said the pandemic demonstrated the value and necessity of confronting challenges by working together. 

“From the onset of the pandemic … we set up the African vaccine access task team which has distinguished itself by mobilising vaccines for the African continent and the Caribbean,” he said.

“We share a determination that, when it comes to vaccines and other health interventions, no region, no country and no person should be left behind. It is, therefore, a matter of great significance that Caribbean countries join other African countries in utilising the platforms the AU has set up to acquire medical supplies as well as vaccines,” Ramaphosa added.

‘Thank you, Africa’ 

Caricom chairman and Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley, said the pandemic had ravaged the economic and social fabric of African and Caribbean nations. 

“Caricom prioritised the early sourcing of Covid-19 vaccines to inoculate as many people as possible. The prevailing vaccine inequity, commonly called ‘vaccine apartheid’, stymied that plan,” said Rowley, adding that the situation had improved about a month ago when Caricom began to receive a substantial amount of vaccines under the African medical supplies platform.

“Thank you, Africa,” he said. 

Ramaphosa said the global community must be mobilised behind the call for a temporary waiver of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) agreement of the World Trade Organisation. 

In 2020, representatives from India and South Africa submitted a proposal for the waiver from the “implementation, application and enforcement” of certain sections of the Trips agreement in relation to the prevention and treatment of Covid-19.

“We must continue to lobby for partnerships on licensing and … transfer with those countries that have the capacity to produce their own vaccines,” Ramaphosa said.

“Gone must be the days when Africa and the Caribbean will need to be sourcing medical supplies and vaccines from other lands and continents that do not have the same perspective of full solidarity we have.”