SA has secured its entry into the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Covax scheme that aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries are able to access Covid-19 vaccines, with its failure to meet previous payment deadlines having raised concern that the country would be left behind.

The health department said on Tuesday that the Solidarity Fund had made a R283m ($19.2m) down payment to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (Gavi), an international alliance responsible for administering the programme. SA has been the hardest hit country in Africa, and so far has had more than 931,000 Covid-19 infections and 24,907 deaths, with the economy set to shrink in 2020 by the most in about a century.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Solidarity Fund for providing the financial support that has enabled the country to meet the down payment obligations as required in terms of the agreement,” Sandile Buthelezi, director-general of the department, said in a statement. “The department of health will make additional payments in relation to vaccines delivered under the Covax facility as they fall due over the next year.”

The Solidarity Fund, which was set up in the wake of the country’s lockdown in March and is supported by some of SA’s biggest companies, made the payment to ensure equitable access to vaccines for South Africans as part of ongoing efforts to support the government in fighting the pandemic. The down payment represents 15% of the total cost of securing access to vaccines for 10% of SA’s population, which equates to about 6-million people.

“There can be no doubt that a Covid-19 vaccine will play an important role in helping SA manage the virus,” said Gloria Serobe, chair of the fund.

The government faced criticism for failing to meet two previous deadlines for payments. Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize responded to the criticism by saying the delayed payment was due to administrative hitches, which are being addressed.

“We convey our sincere gratitude to the Solidarity Fund for its unwavering support to the government to ensure that no-one gets left behind as we seek to protect our most vulnerable citizens against the scourge of Covid-19,” Mkhize said in response to Tuesday’s down payment announcement.

“The collaboration with the Covax facility will continue as SA ramps up efforts to put the necessary systems and processes in place to ensure that, among other health systems strengthening and logistical requirements, the cold supply chain is ready to immunise the population identified.”

Netcare, Mediclinic and Life Healthcare, SA’s biggest private hospital groups, have all announced bed shortages in the past week as the country comes to grips with a resurgence in Covid-19 infections.



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