In stark contrast to the scenes from Wembley Stadium, the Mandela National Stadium, on the outskirts of Kampala, is being kitted out with enough beds to treat over a thousand COVID patients, as a steep rise in cases has stretched the country’s health facilities to breaking point.
The Delta variant has combined with the existing South African strain to create a deadly third wave of COVID-19 in Uganda and other countries across Africa. Countries are facing the newer more contagious strains with minimal health services as vaccine stocks run dry.
Aid agencies who are part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, including ActionAid International, Amref Health Africa, Oxfam and UNAIDS, say the situation in Uganda is dire:
- Cases in the country went up by over a thousand per cent in June.
- In the past 14 days, the number of deaths increased by 88 per cent.
- Uganda has lost more than fifty health workers, including sixteen doctors, to COVID-19 in just two weeks; the country already has only one doctor per 5000 people compared to 1 for every 240 people in Germany.
- COVID-19 poses a severe risk for people who have not had both doses of a vaccination course, but just over 4000 people are fully vaccinated in Uganda, out of a population of over 45 million - the equivalent of less than 5 per cent of the normal 90,000 capacity of Wembley stadium.
- On top of Uganda’s population of 45 million, it is also the largest refugee hosting country in Africa with more than 1.45 million refugees and asylum-seekers who are also in dire need of COVID vaccines.
- One dose of the Pfizer vaccine costs more than Uganda spends per citizen on health in a whole year.
Dr Patrick Kagurusi, a doctor and Country Manager at Amref Health Africa Uganda, said: “We already don’t have enough health workers and now our doctors and nurses are dying. Those left working on the front line are in fear for their lives, not properly protected because we are running out of PPE, and many are severely traumatised from losing patients and colleagues.
“The health system is totally overwhelmed, and our hospitals and health centres are full. Oxygen shortages have reached a critical point and people are dying because we don’t have the supplies.”
Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, who is from Uganda, said: “My friends and relatives are dying. Every few hours I am getting messages of loss.
“What tiny vaccine supplies the country has are nearly finished, yet leaders of rich countries continue to ignore complaints about their pharmaceutical corporations fuelling vaccine apartheid.”
Vaccines are being artificially rationed worldwide as they are only being produced by a handful of Pharma corporations who have a monopoly and have mainly prioritised selling at high prices to rich countries. The Alliance are calling for the EU, Germany and UK to stop blocking proposals put forward by many developing nations – and backed by the US and France - to waive the intellectual property on COVID vaccines, which would enable vaccine manufacturers in Africa and across the developing world to make their own vaccines.
"Denying some people the vaccine and giving it to others is a form of discrimination"
Amref Uganda's Dr Patrick Kagurusi speaks to the People's Vaccine Alliance, live from Mandela Stadium.
Max Lawson, Oxfam’s Head of Inequality Policy, said: “In Europe, crowds in football grounds offer hope of a return to normal life, while in Uganda the national stadium is filled with emergency beds and patients gasping for breath. It is hard to think of a starker example of vaccine apartheid.
“The hope of escaping COVID’s deadly grip shouldn’t be limited to people in rich countries and there would be enough vaccines for every country if pharmaceutical corporations shared their science and know how.
“Developing countries are simply demanding the right to make their own vaccines and are being stopped from doing so. We call on the governments of the UK and Germany and the EU to stop putting Pharma monopolies ahead of saving lives.”
While G7 countries have pledged to donate 1 billion vaccine doses to poorer nations, with the aim of delivering half by the end of the year, the Alliance says this is less than a tenth of the doses needed to vaccinate all countries and isn’t fast enough to prevent the loss of many lives.
Uganda has received just over a million doses of COVID vaccines, mostly via COVAX and has already administered 87 per cent of them. This means the country has only had enough vaccines supplies to give a single dose to just 2 per cent of the population and most African countries have received far less. Learning from the HIV struggle decades ago, the only sustainable way to fully vaccinate African countries would be to give them the ability to manufacture their own.
Xavier Ejoyi, ActionAid’s Uganda Country Director, said: “Dose sharing is urgently needed but donations alone will not fix the problem. Ending the pandemic will only happen once developing countries have their own reliable and sufficient supply of vaccines. In the face of rising COVID cases in many developing countries, we need a People’s Vaccine more than ever.”
All images (c) Francis Mukasa / ActionAid
Amref Health Africa joins People's Vaccine Alliance
Why we decided to lend our voice to this international movement of health and humanitarian organisations, world leaders past and present, health experts, faith leaders, and economists, united by the belief that a COVID-19 vaccine should be available for all, free of charge, as a global common good.