Government's Poor COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Is Costing Batswana Their Lives

This morning, I received a text from the Ministry of Health & Wellness thanking me for receiving the COVID-19 Sinovac vaccine which I registered for in late March. How very courteous! The problem was that, apart from the text message's terrible grammar, like the majority of Botswana citizens, I have never received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccination from the government.

Vaccination confirmation message from Ministry of Health & Awareness

When President Masisi appeared on the CNN show "One World" hosted by Zain Asher about a month ago, he stated that Botswana had secured enough vaccines to innoculate the entirety of its adult population. However, from vaccines going "missing" to legislators being prioritized over at-risk groups and frontline workers like truck drivers, teachers, etc, Botswana's vaccination efforts, which began in March, do not so far look very promising. While America and European countries have pretty much opened up and are even hosting major sporting events, Africans are still dropping like flies from the coronavirus as a result of incompetent leadership failing to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the recently ended G7 Summit in the UK, the world's richest nations pledged one billion vaccines to the poorest over the next year. The US also pledged a further 500 million vaccines towards the cause. This is in addition to the 2 billion vaccines which the COVAX facility intends to avail to low-income countries by the end of 2021. African countries will make up the majority of beneficiaries from these donations because, as always, we have to always wait for handouts from the West.

This is of course welcome news for Botswana but whether the rollout of these vaccines will be done efficiently and effectively, a responsibility of the government, remains to be seen. So far, the government claims to have vaccinated 149 268 people during Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout. Considering the fact that they are sending unvaccinated people text messages stating that they have been vaccinated, it would be wise to take this number with a pinch of salt.

Over the last few months, Western countries and vaccine manufacturers have been widely and perhaps rightfully accused of hoarding vaccines, a practice referred to as "vaccine apartheid" by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. African leaders have been quick to jump on this accusation wagon because it perhaps takes the spotlight away from their own failure in ensuring that their countries are self-sufficient in vaccine production and not reliant on handouts. With vaccines now being pledged, it would be interesting to see what their next excuse for poor handling of the pandemic in their countries will be.

On Friday, the government announced the "National Plan For Acquisition, Logistics, and Vaccination of Botswana Against COVID-19",  a scheme meant to solicit donations from the private sector for the procurement of vaccines. This plan will supposedly cost P1.6 billion, of which the government has so far contributed P700 900 000.00, or about 44% of the total required amount. Up to now, the private sector has been pretty much barred from partaking in vaccine procurement efforts and this plan, according to the government, is meant to change that. However, the problem is that, as is customary with the government, their plans always look good in theory and prove to be a mess in practice.

As good as it is to involve the private sector in vaccine procurement, like how the donations for the initial COVID-19 fund last year were looted through questionable tenders to individuals close to leadership, how are we to be sure that these donations from the private sector won't also be looted? The press release mentions that the funds will be kept in a "financial tool" established by the private sector to ensure transparency and that release of funds will be governed by contractual requirements and as logical as this sounds, it remains to be seen how effective it will be in preventing looting.

Should the funds for the vaccine rollout be looted, as is very likely considering past events, Botswana might find itself either not having funds to secure more vaccines or having vaccines donated from the COVAX facility but no means for rolling out and administering them. To prevent this from happening, we can only hope that the so-called "contractual requirements" for accessing the funds will be stringent enough to curb looting.

According to a study by The Lancet, Africa has the highest mortality rate among critically ill COVID-19 patients despite having significantly fewer recorded cases compared to other regions of the world. This shows the amount of death that insufficient healthcare systems are causing to Africans including Batswana. Instead of using this pandemic as a lesson and a nudge to invest in healthcare infrastructure and other measures like vaccine procurement, governments continue to loot, literally killing their people in the process. In this fight against the pandemic, Africans' enemy is not only COVID-19 but also their governments who serve no one's interests but their own. Cry the beloved motherland.


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