Philanthropist Mo Ibrahim Tells Countries to 'Walk the Talk' in Supplying Africa COVID Vaccines

Philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, 75, tells countries to "walk the talk" in supplying Africa much-needed COVID-19 vaccines during a Tuesday interview with the Associated Press.

Ibrahim, a British billionaire born in Sudan, denounced the unequal global distribution of vaccines, as only 7 million of Africa's 1.3 billion people are fully vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization's (WHO) director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti.

Regarding the popular pandemic slogan, "nobody is safe until everybody is safe," Ibrahim said wealthy nations "say that while they are hoarding the vaccine. Can you walk the talk? Stop just talking like parrots, you know, and do you really mean what you said?"

The WHO announced last week that there is "a near halt" in vaccine shipments for Africa. Ibrahim believes that Africa's frontline workers should receive "at least a reasonable portion" of available vaccines.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Philanthropist Mo Ibrahim
Mo Ibrahim Foundation Founder and Chair, Mo Ibrahim, speaks during an interview with AFP at his office in London on November 16, 2020. Ibrahim fired at wealthy countries and said they should "walk the talk" in supplying Africa with COVID-19 vaccines. Hollie Adams/AFP via Getty Images

Ibrahim, a British mobile phone magnate, is hailed as a voice of moral authority across Africa. He earned his fortune by establishing the Celtel mobile phone network across Africa in the 1990s.

He is now using that fortune to promote democracy and political accountability on the continent, including through his sponsorship of the $5 million Ibrahim Prize for African leaders who govern responsibly and who give up their power peacefully.

He lamented the global "competition" for vaccines in an interview with AP. His comments came late Tuesday in a Zoom call from London, where he is based.

Some African countries face a spike in cases.

Africa has administered vaccine doses to 31 million of its 1.3 billion people.

Sub-Saharan Africa has on average administered only one vaccine dose per 100 people, compared to a global average of 23 doses per 100 people, she said, reiterating Africa's ongoing plea for richer countries with significant vaccination coverage to share some of their remaining doses.

President Joe Biden has said the United States would share some of its vaccines.

Ibrahim warned also that Africa cannot afford to sit back, citing a need for greater accountability by governments which pledged in 2001 to spend at least 15% of their national budgets on public health. Economic integration that widens trade among nations is key, he said.

While support from abroad is welcome, he said, "we should rely much more on ourselves. I always thought self-reliance is something important in Africa."

"We really need to build resilient health service in our countries," he said.

Citing Tanzania under former leader John Magufuli, who died in March, Ibrahim said he was disappointed that some presidents appeared to dismiss the threat from COVID-19.

"We need to hold our leaders accountable," he said. "You deny and you pay the price....Unfortunately, your people also pay the price. So we need to hold our people accountable for their behavior, for the way they allocate resources. And it is for us in civil society to keep raising this issue."

Africa has confirmed more than 4.9 million COVID-19 cases, including 132,000 deaths, representing a tiny fraction of the global caseload. But some experts worry that the continent will suffer greatly in the long term if more of its people are not vaccinated in efforts to achieve herd immunity, when enough people are protected through infection or vaccination to make it difficult for a virus to continue to spread.

Achieving that goal will require about 1.5 billion vaccine doses for Africa if there is widespread use of the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine, often the main shot available under the donor-backed COVAX program to ensure access for developing countries.

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