Nigeria and the Chinese initiative for Belt and Road partnership on COVID-19 vaccines

The COVID-19 pandemic has become a humanitarian catastrophe, sweeping human lives without recognition to race, age, religion or continent and persistently makes human population gullible across borders. On the 11th August, 2021, COVID-19 global related deaths were recorded as 4,331,177, total cases were 204,998,198 and 184,113,582 have already recovered from the menace of the virus. Between March and September, 2020, a daily death records of 1000-8000 lives were recorded, while between November 2020 and February 2021 a daily death records of 1000-17000 were recorded all over the world. These records dropped between April and June, 2021 to about 1000-16000 and significantly dropped in June 2021 to about 10,500 daily death cases. The COVID-19 vaccine which started reaching areas of need has aided in the waning of the number of COVID-19 related deaths around the world.

Apparently, the United States was initially unserious about preventing the spread of COVID-19 especially under the Trump administration, which today has led to the death of 634,662 Americans. India suffered a great hit as human bodies were floating and littering on water and streets of Indian villages and towns as the pandemic seemingly became resistant to all efforts of the Indian government. It was recorded that about 429,183 Indians died of the COVID-19. Brazil suffered 564,890 deaths, Russia recorded 167,241 deaths, and United Kingdom suffered 130,503 deaths and France 112,356 deaths accordingly. China distinctively recorded the lowest death rate among the largest economies of the world with 4,636 records. The question is how was China able to defeat the COVID-19, develop a globally acceptable vaccine for its population and aid the developing countries against the virus? The answer is palpable in the position of President Xi when he pointed out that:

We must put life first and promote vaccine accessibility around the world. COVID-19 vaccination is the largest effort of this kind in human history. People’s life and health must always be our first priority, and they must not be preceded by economic, political or other interests. Vaccines are first and foremost a global public good. We must ensure they remain so and reject rising vaccine nationalism. They are to be used as weapon to save lives, not a means by any country for selfish gains, still less a tool for geopolitical rivalry.

When the world was calm the Chinese people suffered a great tragedy of the Corona Virus and that was seen as a great challenge for the people and Chinese authorities. The provincial governments, communities and Chinese companies showed a great level of leadership and humanitarian gesture for coming together to salvage the Chinese people against the emerging virus. China did not stop on the mainland, but provided in aid medical supports to major countries in need. Africa was one of the beneficiaries of Chinese solidarity against the COVID-19, where in historical records the Chinese have shown a great level of concern and love for their African friends since the times of Ebola and hitherto periods of challenges in Africa.

In a message delivered by President Xi Jinping to the first meeting of the International Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine Cooperation held on the 8th August, 2021, president Xi outlined the position of China in the wake of this global pandemic, which is humane and philanthropic in nature. The position of China is a commitment to building a global community of health for all, where China provides vaccines to the world, particularly fellow developing countries, and is actively advancing cooperation on vaccine production. This is in line with China’s commitment to making COVID-19 vaccines a global public good. In China-Africa cooperation China sees African countries as sisters and partners for building African development and a shared future for mankind and in Xi’s message while referring to Africa, “China will continue to do its best to help other developing countries cope with the virus.” Apart from looking at China’s closest sisters (African countries), President Xi inclusively pledged to provide 2 billion doses of vaccines to the world, this is unprecedented and there is no humanitarian assistance better than this that could emanate from a rising giant. China has decided to incrementally donate US$100 million to the COVAX Facility for distributing vaccines to developing countries and Nigeria inclusive. The last part of Xi Jinping’s message to the first meeting of the International Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine Cooperation was that China has positioned itself to work with the international community to advance international cooperation and build a community with a shared future for mankind. It is also in line with the above that President Xi designated three deficits vis a vis the COVID-19 vaccines which must be surmounted:

We must uphold justice and step up support to developing countries. Three deficits need to be addressed. Firstly the production deficit, while ramping up total supply, producing countries should also support developing countries through technology transfer and joint production, and safeguard the global supply chain of raw materials. Secondly the distribution deficit, vaccines should be shared with greater intensity and speed to make them accessible and affordable for developing countries as quickly as possible, especially the least developed countries. Thirdly the cooperation deficit, this requires greater solidarity and sense of responsibility, and full mobilization of governments, businesses and international organizations, so as to form synergy.

The issue of such vaccines should not exclude anyone within the framework of societal population. It should not target the rich and ignore the poor; it should not target the medical workers alone and ignore non-medical workers; it should not target the elderly and forget the youth as everybody is vulnerable to the virus. In his remarks, China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, provided a thrilling caption of his speech “Strengthening Vaccine Cooperation to Build a Great Wall against COVID-19,” at the first meeting of the international forum on COVID-19 Vaccine Cooperation, where he emphasized on the indispensability of sharing with the world such great vaccines considered putting COVID-19 pandemic under control as China’s top priority. Minister Wang Yi spoke with his heart to the minds of the participants and posited that vaccines are of vital importance, they should be distributed around the world fairly and equitably with no country and no one left behind. They should truly serve as people’s vaccines. This is essential for defeating the virus. It is also a matter of international justice. China is never selfish in its policy towards Africa and the world and that is what produces the shared future mantra where humanity at large will benefit from the Belt and Road Initiative bringing the vaccines available to the thresholds of nations. The position of China on the inequality and gap in the production of the vaccines is that the immunization gap deserves high attention from the international community and to win this fight where humanity’s future is at stake, solidarity and cooperation is the only panacea. In his words, President Xi argues that:

We must practice multilateralism and make international cooperation more effective. Corona virus vaccination is like a touchstone of true multilateralism. The COVAX Facility needs to function with greater efficiency and transparency to deliver vaccines in greater numbers and more quickly. The World Bank and other multilateral financial institutions need to provide quick and inclusive financial support for vaccine R&D, production and procurement. The World Trade Organization (WTO) needs to speed up discussions on IP waivers to reach early consensus. All countries should respect such recognition systems as the WHO Emergency Use Listing Procedure (EUL), and take a science-based and fair approach toward vaccine mutual recognition and regulatory policy coordination.

The Peoples Republic of China sees no boundaries in the fight against such global pandemic as it tries to manifest the Belt and Road spirit of inclusive global prosperity and a shared future with all nations on earth. Consequently, since 1 March, 2020, China has shipped €1.33bn worth of various medical supplies (3.86 billion masks, 37.5 million protective clothing items and 16,000 ventilators, according to Chinese customs authorities) to more than 80 countries including African countries. At the end of March, each country on the continent also received 1,000 protective suits, 20,000 test kits and 100,000 masks, as promised by the Jack Ma Foundation, a charitable organization created by Alibaba’s super-rich founder, and delivered with the strong backing of China’s local Ambassador. The Telecommunication giant Huawei is distributed supplies and checks in the various countries where it operates and China Merchants imported 1 million masks to Djibouti. Construction giant CSCEC sent more than €420,000 worth of supplies to Algeria and Hunan Construction did the same for Senegal.

The month of April, 2020 marked the beginning of China donating actual, clearly targeted bilateral aid to Africa, where Democratic Republic of Congo received 65 tones of testing supplies and protective gear, Ethiopia received more than 1 million tests and 6 million masks, and a field hospital was set up in Algeria and Zimbabwe. On 6 April, an Air China plane landed in Accra to unload several tens of tones of supplies, which were then redistributed in 18 countries namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. The Chinese Embassy in Nairobi said China had so far provided 2,000 diagnostic kits through the African Union and 10,000 kits and other medical equipment were on their way to Africa. Embassy spokeswoman Huang Xueqing said the kits would first go to the Africa CDC or African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which would then distribute them to other African countries in need. With the discovery of the COVID-19 vaccines, China advocates for sharing and helping those in need through a multilateral effort. President Xi believes that:

We must strengthen coordination and build multi-tiered defense. While continuing to educate the public, strengthen their confidence and speed up vaccination, countries should continue to coordinate pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions, targeted routine measures and emergency response, and pandemic control and socioeconomic development. In the meantime, joint response at the global level should be scaled up to minimize the risk of cross-border transmission.

The Chinese initiative for Belt and Road partnership on COVID-19 vaccines cooperation envisages cooperation between China and countries within the Belt and Road to partner in production and distribution of such vaccines to the needy states. The Chinese vaccine is effective and reliable. Four of Chinese vaccines have been approved for use in over 100 countries and two of them have been included in the EUL and the COVAX procurement list. The safety and effectiveness of Chinese vaccines have gained authoritative recognition internationally. This is a joint achievement by China and other developing countries. There is the need for Nigeria being the most populous country in Africa to show cooperation in the COVID-19 partnership with China in the Belt and Road circle to also pave a way for Nigerians to benefit from the Chinese vaccines as a preventive measure against the deadly virus. Nigeria should expedite action for NAFDAC to approve the emergency use of the Chinese vaccines as many Nigerians travel to China for businesses and studies and there are no records of negative effects of such vaccines as manifested on the Chinese population. China has started supplying vaccines to countries with urgent need from as early as September 2020 and donated vaccines to over 100 countries with vaccines exports to over 60 countries. The total number has exceeded 770 million doses, which is the largest in the world.

In the entire world today, there is no vaccine that is more reliable than the Chinese vaccine as it has been approved and recognized by COVAX, UN peacekeepers and the International Olympic Committee. There is no political motive or economic calculation, and China does not attach any political strings to its vaccines. The only purpose of China is to make vaccines a global public good that truly serves as people’s vaccines and help the world defeat the pandemic at an early date. Nigeria should as a matter of urgency join the Chinese initiative in the Belt and Road partnership on COVID-19 vaccines cooperation for perpetual trust-building, cooperation and development. NAFDAC should quickly give approval for emergency use of the vaccines in order to protect our people from the virus which has been globally recognized.