from MAVHUTO BANDA in Lilongwe, Malawi
LILONGWE, (CAJ News) – WHEN Malawi last month destroyed thousands of expired coronavirus vaccines, the move was lauded internationally.
This was as the Southern African country became the first nation in the continent to publicly terminate such vaccines.
Notably, this was against the advice of health experts.
The United Nations’ World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Africa Centre for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) issued calls against the destruction.
Now, as the country runs out of vaccines for its second phase of the inoculation exercise, the move appears to have been ill-thought on Malawi’s part.
Experts from the two above-mentioned organisations had urged African countries not to destroy the COVID-19 vaccines that may have passed their expiration dates, insisting they were still safe to use.
President Lazarus Chakwera’s government had contrary ideas and destroyed 19 610 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biotechnology company.
Last week, Malawians woke up to a health scare after authorities confirmed the country had run out of doses, hardly three weeks into the second phase of the country’s vaccination exercise.
The two largest cities- the capital Lilongwe and the centre of finance and commerce, Blantyre- lately reported stock had run out.
“The public is being informed that the Blantyre District Health Office (DHO) has run out of COVID-19 vaccine as of 17th June, 2021,” stated Dr Gift Kawalazira, Blantyre, Director of Health and Social Services.
“Blantyre DHO regrets for any inconvenience the stockout may have caused. The public will be informed of any further development regarding COVID-19 vaccines.”
His counterpart in Lilongwe, Alinafe Mbewe Tambala, issued similar statement.
“The Lilongwe District Office wished to inform all people in Lilongwe and the general public that the district has run out of COVID-19 vaccine in all its vaccine delivery points,” Tambala stated.
“The office is advising all those who did not manage to get a second dose at 12 weeks that they will get their vaccine later. The vaccine is still effective even when the second dose is given after 12 weeks. There will be no need to repeat the first dose.”
Authorities had shut down more than half the country’s vaccination centres because of shortages.
People were turned away.
“One can say we jumped the gun by destroying the vaccine against expert advice. The shortages of vaccines burst the bubble of what has been a commendable vaccination exercise, a model worthy of emulation to other countries,” said analyst Lisimba Muyila.
While the crisis appears self-made, Malawi is bearing the brunt of India’s discontinuation of manufacturing AstraZeneca vaccines in March.
Malawi is now pinning its hopes on the intervention of the World Bank, which has approved US$30 million in additional financing to support the country in the acquisition and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines.
This brings the World Bank contributions to the country’s health sector COVID-19 response and vaccination efforts to a total of $37 million.
The latest fund will mostly go towards the procurement and deployment of eligible COVID-19 vaccines to cover an estimated eight percent of the population by December 2023.
“This additional financing represents an important new contribution towards an expanded health sector response to the pandemic and builds on the World Bank’s existing health portfolio as well as the technical and financial support from key development partners in Malawi,” said Hugh Riddell, World Bank Country Manager for Malawi.
Malawi, with an estimated 19,6 million people, has confirmed some 40 000 cases of COVID-19, of which 1 173 have resulted in death.
It is the 24th worst COVID-19 crisis in Africa in terms of confirmed cases.
Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, Minister of Health, said as Malawi rolled out the second phase of its vaccination, the demand for more vaccines to reach a larger share of the population was huge.
“This financing will therefore help Malawi acquire and deploy safe and effective vaccines according to our National Vaccine Deployment Plan,” the minister said.
– CAJ News