In parts of Africa, mass vaccination against Covid-19 is so far off that it is not even mentioned, warned bishops across the African continent.
The malnourished people in the Nuba Mountains, South Sudan are “moving skeletons,” and their compromised immune systems expose them “to all kinds of diseases, not just Covid-19,” Bishop Macram Max Gassis, retired bishop of El Obeid, Sudan, said in a February 4 interview.
The retired bishop is responsible for remote hospitals, which he has been unable to visit for almost a year.
By February 8, 48 African countries had not approved a vaccine. Confirmed Covid-19 deaths on the continent are close to 100,000, with more than 3.6 million cases overall.
Bishop Gassis told Catholic News Service while “there is very little testing equipment” in the Nuba Mountains or South Sudan, “it is a fallacy that there is no coronavirus” in the region.
“Most people get one meal a day if they can find it, which leaves them weak, and so how much is the disease going around? It’s a tragic situation,” he said.
While vaccinations are not yet being administered in Kenya, the bishop said his “hopes are set on Easter”.
“The richer countries should not forget the poor countries as they rush to vaccinate all their people,” Bishop Gassis said, noting that “if they do this at the expense of poor countries, they cannot be content that they are safe”.
Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of Mthatha, South Africa, second vice president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, said churches in Africa need to join together in calling for equitable international distribution of vaccines, then use their local structures to ensure that rollout is done properly.
“Hoarding of vaccines by richer countries has led to a lamentable situation,” said Bishop Sipuka, who is also president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. With “cooperation and solidarity”, the Church can play an oversight role in ensuring that vaccines reach poorer countries in Africa, he told CNS.
The Vatican’s coronavirus commission and the Pontifical Academy for Life issued a joint statement in late December calling for a coordinated international effort to ensure the equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines worldwide.
Civil society, including churches, “will need to keep watch” that the inoculations are done fairly and transparently, Bishop Sipuka said, noting that “we must guard against corruption”.
Bishop Anthony Fallah Borwah of Gbarnga, Liberia, said February 3 that there were no signs yet of the vaccination reaching the West African nation.
“We are fortunate in that we had not had it (Covid-19) too badly here,” Bishop Borwah said, noting that “with our inability to afford swift and widespread vaccination, we can’t afford to have the levels of infection other countries have”.