The Mastercard Foundation announced in June that it would deploy $1.3 billion for a three-year partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) “to save the lives and livelihoods of millions of people in Africa and hasten the economic recovery of the continent”. Called Saving Lives and Livelihoods, the initiative “will acquire vaccines for at least 50 million people, support the delivery of vaccinations to millions more across the continent, lay the groundwork for vaccine manufacturing in Africa through a focus on human capital development, and strengthen the Africa CDC.”
The need is enormous. According to CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong, as of 22 June, only 10.2 million Africans – 0.85 percent of the continent’s population – are fully vaccinated against Covid. Put another way, Africa’s 54 countries combined have received only about two percent of the global vaccine supply. Many countries have run out of supplies to administer second doses, which are especially important given the lower efficacy of incomplete vaccination against more-infectious Covid ‘variants’.
The Canada-based Mastercard Foundation is one of the world’s largest, with assets of more than $39 billion. It previously collaborated with the Africa CDC to enable distribution of more than 47 million Covid-19 test kits and deploy over 12,000 African health workers and rapid responders. The new partnership marks a significant moment in the Foundation’s commitment to Africa, where it has spent over $4.4 billion to expand education and financial inclusion.
Mastercard Foundation President and CEO Reeta Roy is a veteran of the private and public sector, as well as the United Nations, whose work on education, youth employment and global health challenges has been recognized with numerous awards and seven honorary doctorates from universities, including the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana. AllAfrica’s Mantsadi Sepheka spoke with her the day of the announcement.
I’m sure you’ve been in non-stop interviews and conversations about the $1.3 billion partnership that Mastercard Foundation announced to support fighting Covid-19 in Africa.
Yes, it’s something we like to keep talking about, but we also want to get to work! We are excited.
The vaccine doses Africa has received are a long way from an equitable share. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has been talking about the need for Africa to make our own vaccines, so that the waiting period is reduced. How will your initiative help?
You are absolutely right about equity and that all lives are equal. That is something we hold very dear, and I know you have the same view. This partnership is, at its essence, about saving lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the continent. It is also to enable and hasten economic recovery across the continent. It has four components:
First, it’s about acquiring vaccines for at least 50 million people.
Second is to enable and support the deployment of vaccinations to millions more across the continent.
Third is about preparing the workforce – building human capital for vaccine manufacturing on the continent.
Mastercard Foundation’s Covid-19 partnership with the Africa CDC aims to support the recovery, rebuilding and restoration of African lives.
Fourth is getting behind and supporting the institution of the Africa CDC, so that it can undertake this massive vaccination initiative on the continent.
We know that doing this will enable economies to reopen. People will be able to get on with their lives. This will be part of the recovery, rebuilding and restoration of their lives.
So what is the scope of the partnership? How will it work?
The scope covers the four critical areas. The Africa CDC will be the main partner overseeing the entire initiative. The initiative is inclusive of all countries of the African Union, and the CDC will hold regional consultations.
The good thing, Mantsadi, is that we are not starting from scratch. We are getting behind national vaccination programs. As [Rwandan] President [Paul] Kagame said, we are not creating parallel systems. We are seeking to understand the status of the vaccination supply in each country – what is coming to them from COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access collaboration) or what they have purchased through the CDC’s Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) and what the gaps are.
And, in your own words, why is this partnership critical for the future of Africa?
It is absolutely critical for so many reasons. Compare Africa’s rates of vaccination with many other parts of the world where upwards of fifty percent have been vaccinated. It’s such a moral imperative for us to address this inequity. That’s number one.
On a more practical level, it is very, very clear that none of us can get on with our lives till all of us – or as many of us as possible – are vaccinated, so that economies can reopen, kids can go back to schools safely, we can be back at work, and growth can start to take place again.
How did this ambitious initiative come about?
When COVID hit last year, we had to pivot, like so many other organizations. We pivoted by making funds available to support many partners across the continent.
First, we tried to assist frontline workers to get the equipment they needed to be safe and to be able to assist others, such as PPEs [personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves] and tests.
Second, we focused on sustaining young people so that they can continue to learn and keep education going.
Third was to focus on what we normally do, which is to support micro and small businesses so that they could stay alive and sustain themselves – or could switch and find some other means of being productive.
Mastercard Foundation is supporting African vaccination plans – not creating parallel systems.
It was right around then that we started a program with the Africa CDC. As you recall, back then, we didn’t have vaccines. What we had, but in short supply, were tests. We started a partnership to help the Africa CDC acquire two million tests and distribute them across the continent and paying 14,000 healthcare workers. At that time, it was all about testing and contact tracing and enabling healthcare workers to do just that. We helped set up lab facilities, making sure labs were productive and functioning.
This [new partnership] was the natural corollary, particularly when we saw that the pandemic was going to go on. We started out the year being so hopeful that vaccines were coming – and then we see this huge gap.
We started asking ourselves what we could do? What must we do just to address this inequity and also to help economies get going. We just hope that this is also an inspiration for the G7 and for many countries to step up even more to support the continent. [Seven industrial countries form the G7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The European Union participates, as do invited guests, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa this year.]
What do you hope the G7 will do as a result of their meeting [11-14 June in the UK], especially with regards to vaccine rollout, equity and the things you’ve mentioned that could make a massive difference to lives of Africans?
There are four things. What we want to see is action on commitments. [The G7 pledged to provide at least 870 million doses to low-income countries.]
We hope the action coalesces in four areas.
Some countries have more than adequate supply of vaccines for their population. We very much want to encourage and urge them to reallocate whatever is excess to Africa, because that would help our vaccination efforts massively.
Second, get behind vaccination efforts. Support the countries where they may be working and have relationships to help with the deployment of mass vaccinations. As you know, that’s a huge logistical feat which will take resources.
Accelerate support for vaccine manufacturing in Africa.
Third, many of the G7 countries are in a unique position to support vaccine manufacturing on the continent. They have the scientists, the technology and the willingness to partner. We urge them to accelerate those partnerships.
Fourth – because in times of trouble we look to institutions – we encourage the G7 to step up, get behind and invest in strong public health institutions like the Africa CDC.
I know a lot of these summits are seen as talk shops. But to pursue your point on the continent manufacturing its own vaccines. Your thoughts on whether or not that’s an achievable goal?
I think it can be – and that it will be an achievable goal. There are already sites across the continent which are manufacturing vaccines, whether for Ebola or for childhood immunization. So the capacity, nascent as it may be, and perhaps not at the scale we may need, is already present. What is required is investment.
What’s really encouraging is that a few months ago the African Union convened a major meeting around building a partnership for vaccine manufacturing – and there was so much interest from companies, from vaccine manufacturers, from countries, from international partners. The Africa CDC is at the forefront of consultations into how best to develop a framework, so that the continent can take a holistic, coordinated view on vaccine manufacturing.
A number of African countries have expressed interest, whether it’s in mRNA technology or setting up ‘fill and finish’ sites like you have in South Africa [to complete the process of vaccine production, using imported materials] to be able to do more and to do it at a higher scale. That’s something encouraging, and our part in all of this is to look at the workforce development that’s required.
Is the partnership being coordinated with WHO as well as the Africa CDC?
Our primary partner is the Africa CDC. And the Africa CDC, throughout this pandemic, has been in close coordination with the WHO and with Covax and with a number of organizations like the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the African Export-Import Bank, all of whom have been critical actors coming together, collaborating and playing their role – around financing or creating a platform for countries to aggregate purchase of medical supplies. Everyone played a role.
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That is one of the most powerful stories that we have observed this past year – how the continent came together so quickly. They did not wait. [Africa] came together quickly and coordinated its response. That’s leadership, and that is another reason we wanted to get behind the Africa CDC.
It proves that through adversity on the continent, we can come together. For clarity, the $1.3 billion is over three years to deliver the vaccines. It will be quite an achievement. Just take us through the plan, if possible.
I can elaborate a little bit more on the four areas of focus – the architecture for this initiative. The first two is where the 80 percent of our $1.3 billion will be directed: acquisition and deployment of vaccines. Africa CDC, as I’ve mentioned, will start consultations with counties to understand the number of vaccines that they have and vaccines they will be requiring, and how to stand up their vaccination campaign. What are the gaps in implementation? Is it around healthcare worker training? Is it around setting up vaccination centers? We need to really understand where they are so that we can support and augment their efforts.
Concurrently, Africa CDC, through a competitive process, will start to recruit implementing partners across all the countries, while Mastercard Foundation will be purchasing the vaccines. So that’s where most of those funds will be directed.
So the first point of call will be to establish where each country is at before proceeding forward, is that right?
That’s correct. Because we don’t want to create a parallel system. We want to support, augment and, where we can, accelerate countries’ own vaccination plans.
I know you’ve got a lot of work on your hands, but I applaud the Mastercard Foundation for responding to Africa’s deep cry for scaling up the vaccine rollout. Do you have anything more to add?
Thank you for your kind words. I do want to say this is hard work. I want to say we are really grateful to have the partnership of the Africa CDC and so many other partners across the continent, and we are really looking forward to working with them and to reporting back on progress.
Thank you and good luck.
AllAfrica interviews are lightly edited for length, flow and clarity.