The unpredictability of the coronavirus and the exponential increase in cases make any criticism unproductive, since the time has come for solidarity. The idea here is not to challenge but to be concerned that in 2020, Africa will be the great absentee in scientific research for a vaccine against Covid-19. Representing some 50 countries, Cyril Ramaphosa, current chair of the African Union, expressed his « hope » that at least 750 million vaccines would be delivered. This is also the politics of reaching out.
When fifty-four countries with the world’s largest youth dividend are so lacking in self-confidence that they forget their potential. Even if Africa intends to buy its vaccines, it remains at the mercy of what will be bequeathed to it in the name of, shall we say, subjective considerations. As this epidemiological pressure demonstrates, the hopes of the greatest economic powers today rest on scientific excellence, the only guarantee of survival for their peoples. How can we be proud of our so-called independence if we have not even been able to stimulate our scientists to guarantee our health sovereignty?
For example, Senegal, which has trained remarkable scientists such as Cheikh Anta Diop, Professor Souleymane Mboup, co-discoverer of HIV-2, and Professor Mary Teuw Niane, who continues to make a name for himself in mathematics, embodies this potential. However, figures of this calibre are becoming rare. This is worrying, especially in the current context of health war where each doctor will make it a duty to save his compatriot first? How can we take advantage of this national preference when the brain drain deprives us of our best talents? How can we remain serene when the future of scientific research is trapped by the desertion of scientific subjects?
Understanding the urgent need to reverse the trend, President Macky Sall has multiplied initiatives to promote science, as shown by his contribution of 500 million CFA francs to support African research. However, there is an urgent need to develop a real Marshall Plan, in transparency, on a continental scale, to guarantee African scientific independence and its revaluation. A sovereignty that will protect us from the hazards of neoliberal capitalism and the risks associated with the hasty manufacture of vaccines that have not yet revealed all their secrets.
Indeed, the vaccines that have been announced, with great fanfare, do not yet offer all the guarantees of reliability. They were developed in barely 9 months, and the only reactions recorded are those that are perceptible in the short term. How many times have vaccines had to be withdrawn from the market because of their dangerous side effects? For those in question, the laboratories are partially covered by the State in case of unforeseen incidents. This did not prevent the highly reputed laboratory Sanofi from postponing its vaccine until the end of 2021, as it was not very reassured by the initial results. When asked about the possibility of being vaccinated, the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, seemed undecided before conceding that « we don’t know everything about this vaccine, just as we don’t know everything about this virus ».
But the most serious reservations come from the medical world. « There is a real problem with the Pfizer vaccine. The frequency of adverse events is particularly high. There are more undesirable effects in young people than in older people, and more after the second dose than after the first, » said Professor Eric Caumes, head of the epidemiology department at the French Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, with concern.
In these circumstances, is it wise to rush to order 750 million doses, as the African Union seems to anticipate? What record levels of debt are we moving towards? Should Africa necessarily align itself with the vaccine strategy implemented by Western countries, when it has its own realities with covid? Faster immunisation, a much lower morbidity rate, a climate less conducive to the proliferation of the virus and a much younger population. On the contrary, shouldn’t we rather insist on the strategy of prevention, treatment and even isolation? Do we have the financial and logistical means to preserve this vaccine, which must be kept at less than 80°C at all times? These are all questions that must be faced with courage, serenity and, above all, sovereignty. Today more than ever, when millions of lives are at stake, let us defy any mimicry, especially when the capacity to manage risks is not the same.
The discovery of an effective and safe vaccine against this pandemic, which has disrupted our most precious and even innocent habits, would certainly be a welcome advance for humanity. But this progress can only be inclusive and beneficial if the most basic rules of the precautionary principle and surveillance are respected.
In the meantime, let’s look after our vulnerable layers and respect the barrier gestures.