The first batch of 102,960 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccines arrive at the Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 3, 2021. Photo AF

 

Rwanda on Wednesday became the first African country to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, with around 100,000 doses delivered in what the pharmaceutical giant hailed as a "milestone" for the continent.

The East African country received nearly 103,000 doses of the vaccine at the capital Kigali through the UN-led Covax initiative, which aims to provide equitable access to Covid-19 jabs for poorer countries.

Pfizer said the first shipment to Africa of its vaccine represented "an important milestone for the region, for Rwanda, and for the global health partners working tirelessly to fight this pandemic".

"Our goal is to make vaccines accessible worldwide and today's delivery to Rwanda is a great step forward," said Janine Small, Pfizer Global President for Emerging Markets, in a statement.

An official at Rwanda's health ministry told AFP the vaccines -- which must be kept at ultra-low temperatures -- were "immediately transported to cold room freezers" upon arrival at Kigali aboard on a KLM flight at around 2015 local time (1815 GMT).

Earlier in the day, Rwanda took separate possession of 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab, its first delivery under the Covax facility.

The health ministry said the collective 340,000 doses would be dispatched Thursday from a biomedical warehouse in Kigali to district hospitals and onward to hundreds of health centres dotted across Rwanda. 

Vaccinations will begin Friday, with the country of 12 million planning to inoculate 30 percent of its population this year, and 60 percent by the end of 2022.

The ministry said the vaccine shipment should protect about 171,500 frontline personnel, as well as other priority citizens such as those over 65 or with underlying health conditions.

"We will immediately roll out our prepared vaccination plan, which will see target risk groups across Rwanda receive their first of two vaccine doses," Health Minister Daniel Ngamije said in a statement.

In February, Rwanda became the first country in East Africa to begin vaccinating against the disease, targeting high-risk groups such as healthcare workers after acquiring around 1,000 doses of the Moderna jab.

Rwanda has carried out more than a million coronavirus tests and detected just over 19,100 cases. As of Wednesday, 265 people had lost their lives to the disease.

It imposed some of the strictest anti-coronavirus measures on the continent, including one of Africa's first total shutdowns in March 2020. It put capital Kigali back under a full lockdown in January after a surge in cases.

Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine is based on different technology to AstraZeneca's, and is expected to be much more effective in protecting against the onset of Covid-19 when transmitted through the South African variant. - AFP/Daily Monitor

FILE PHOTO: Workers prepare face shields from recycled plastics at the Zaidi Recyclers workshop as a measure to stop the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania May 27, 2020. Picture taken May 27, 2020. Photo REUTERS/Stringer

 

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The Unites States urged vaccine-sceptical Tanzania on Friday to review evidence on the drugs, saying they work and are one of the tools to fight off the COVID-19 pandemic.

U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania Don Wright said he was encouraged that authorities had recently acknowledged COVID-19 as a public health priority and had called on Tanzanians to take basic precautions to fend off the virus.

In a statement he urged the government to start sharing data about testing and cases “in order to know if response measures are having the intended impact”, and said the government should employ vaccines as an anti-coronavirus tool.

“There is no doubt that a mass immunization campaign will save lives,” he said. “I urge the Government of Tanzania to convene its health experts and review the evidence on vaccines.”

President John Magufuli has been one of the world leaders most sceptical of efforts to combat the pandemic. He has also cast doubt about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, saying last month that they “are not good. If they were, then the white man would have brought vaccines for HIV/AIDS”.

His government has said it has no plans to import vaccines.

Last week, the death of a senior politician who had tested positive for COVID-19 added to the concern about a hidden epidemic running rampant in the East African country.

On Sunday, World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged Tanzania to bolster public health measures, prepare to distribute vaccines and start reporting coronavirus cases and sharing data.

The government stopped reporting coronavirus statistics last May, at a time when it had registered 509 cases and 21 deaths.

On Feb. 10, the U.S embassy said Tanzania was experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and that its healthcare facilities could be quickly overwhelmed.

On Wednesday, the health minister implored citizens to take precautions against COVID-19, including wearing facemasks, avoiding unnecessary public gatherings and washing hands. - Reuters

Photo Courtesy

 

More than 400 employees of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in South Sudan's Northern Bahr al Ghazal State have laid down their tools in protest against what they call 'illegal taxation' on their National Social Insurance Funds (NSIF).

Since Tuesday, medical doctors, nurses, lab technicians, midwives, security guards, cleaners, and cooks have suspended their duties at Aweil Civil Hospital run by MSF and asked the employer to immediately reverse the order.

Speaking to Radio Tamazuj on Wednesday, the employees said the organization intends to tax 20% from their NSIF although the government and the National Revenue Authority (NRA) have assured them that the tax order is illegal.

The protesters' representative Deng Chan Chan said they approached the state labour ministry and the NRA in January last year and they were told to receive their social funds free of tax. 

"We are protesting the unreasonable taxation imposed by the National Revenue Authority on the National Social Security Insurance Fund (NSIF). In November 2020 the ministry of labour approved our money to be paid tax-free and then for reasons best known to MSF and the NRA, they came up with another document asking for the taxation of NSIF," Deng Chan said. "But when we went through the laws that are governing this institution, there is no single article talking about taxation on NSIF. We disputed this and we were told to follow this with our government. On the 25 of January 2020, we went to the state labour office of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State and we received a letter that our money would be paid tax-free.'' 

He said they submitted the letter to MSF but were then asked to validate it with the NRA, which they did. But he says, "The office finally decided that they will not respect decisions that are made by the state government that the state government has to speak to the NRA to write a uniform document asking for the payment of tax-free NSIF. However, this has brought confusion and we decided on strike,'' Deng concludes.

Aweil Civil Hospital management says the current situation at the hospital is deplorable as health workers are on strike.

"The situation is deplorable. Of course, the MSF section used to treat children and pregnant mothers," said Dr. Wol Wol Akeen, the Director for Aweil Civil Hospital.  

According to the medical doctor, the state government has vowed to resolve the impasse as soon as possible.

For his part, Cyrus Paye the project coordinator for MSF in Northern Bahr al Ghazal State said the organization is concerned about the conditions facing the workers and called for patience until all the outstanding issues are resolved.

 The coordinator invites the complainers to express and peacefully advocate for their rights and cease any aggressive approach.

"I was once advocating for staff and I feel what you feel. I think you guys should all understand, don't fight for your right with aggression,'' he pleaded. - Radio Tamazuj

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