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COVID-19 and its impact on Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa

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“There can be no justification for any South African to attack people from other countries.” -President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Africa was the last continent to be affected by the COVID-19 trajectory.  The pandemic; however, quickly spread across the continent, and most African governments are struggling to curb it. Currently, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Africa is South Africa, specifically the Western Cape. Against this backdrop, the Western Cape now accounts for 60% of the country’s total COVID-19 cases. South Africa is the second-largest economy in Africa after Nigeria. As such, it is the dominant actor in the SADC region. South Africa’s enormous economic development makes it Africa’s most giant magnet for immigrants. Therefore, South Africa is a regional hub of many immigrants. Migrants are people who migrate from their countries to settle on new territory. The projected number of migrants in South Africa is approximately 4 million out of a total population of more than 50million. The main source of migrants in South Africa is neighboring countries. Of note, 70% of the migrants comes from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique. Recently, the estimated number of infections in South Africa toped 35,812 death neared 755 and 18,313 recovered (Wordometer, 3 June) As such, the South African government embarked on robust measures to contain the disease. These include social distancing, travel restrictions, cancelled public gatherings lockdowns and curfews.

The lesson drawn from other countries informs us that the COVID-19 outbreak in Iran led to chaotic conditions. Resultantly, almost 200 000 Afghan immigrants in Iran have returned to Afghanistan because of either fear of the pandemic or lost jobs. The migrants used border channels as well as irregular means.  However, more than half of the returnee tested COVID-19 positive. Food security with regards to migrants, has been a significant concern in India amidst COVID-19 pandemic because subsidized food is for citizens. Additionally, in Myanmar, more than 63, 000 emigrants have returned from Thailand and China, adding to the already weak health delivery system. Social distancing also means reduced access to services and necessities. For instance, in Italy, many programs related to assisting migrants were suspended, as the government focused on fighting COVID-19. On the note, in Libya, refugees were removed from aid. Against this background, a few immigrants have also decided to return to their countries from South Africa. These include more than 2680 immigrants from Zimbabwe.

History informs us that the 1918 Spanish flu claimed more than 650, 000 lives in the US. The immigration process was widely affected as immigration stations adjusted to cater for the requirements of people who arrived affected with influenza. There was a surge in the cases of flu at the New Orleans Immigration station, and some of the detained immigrants developed symptoms. In most instances when pandemics happen migrants, refugees and disabled people are usually more exposed. During the financial crisis of 2007-8, migrants lost their jobs and some returned to their home countries. The levels of remittance and support of communities and families dropped drastically, such as in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. Remittances dropped because the majority of the migrants used to depend on lower-income jobs such as mines and farms. During the Cholera Pandemic of 2009 in Zimbabwe, South Africa was affected by imported cases of cholera from Zimbabwe. The World Health Organization 2009 reported that there was absent of cross-border health policies between the two countries to control the cholera outbreak in 2009.  Despite all these past challenges the Zimbabwean migrants in South Africa are not exempt from the COVID-19 trajectory.

Migrants around the globe have become more vulnerable to COVID-19 and increased poverty.  Migrants are one of the most exposed group and easily forgotten in global epidemics. Noteworthy, as governments concentrate on fighting the outbreaks, migrants are usually the losers in the most global crisis. Many migrants were struggling to make ends meet since most of them worked in informal work. Also, the majority of migrants live in crowded places with no access to clean and safe water. Some areas in South Africa are loaded with migrants, and most of them lack basic structures. However, the IOM is worried about the likelihood of an outbreak inside these facilities. As such, social distancing is challenging to implement in such a scenario. Worse, migrant’s short-term contracts make them more vulnerable to economic shocks. The majority of the immigrants are left with no income as they work as waiters and drivers, some transport services and restaurant were closed hence left incomeless. Shops who were owned by South African nationals could be allowed to open as well as receive compensation for losses incurred; however, migrant’s small businesses were not included. Therefore, migrants struggled to raise enough money for rent. Above all, South Africa has been struggling to impose effective hygiene and social distancing in its crowded and most impoverished neighborhoods. However, the majority of the migrants reside in these areas. Thousands of Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa are failing to have access to assistance. Nearly 6,854 migrants are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Migrants in Gauteng are heading home, raising the risks of the pandemic. The IOM South Africa is assisting the return of 400 out of nearly 4,500 vulnerable migrants in South Africa. For example, conducting medical checks, facilitating pre-departure arrangements, as well as travel arrangements. More than 13,000 Zimbabweans diaspora in South Africa returned home and are required to stay in the selected isolation centers for 21 days. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the emigrants to the financial crisis. In fact, the majority of the migrants have fled Zimbabwe political turn oil and financial meltdown since 2000 to South Africa. The Zimbabwean migrants were faced with a difficult decision of coming back to Zimbabwe to face again the challenges that forced to migrate in the first place. However, some of the migrants who returned from South Africa have escaped the isolation centers exposing Zimbabweans to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Despite, evidence that border wall does not stop COVID-19 pandemic, the US and South Africa have increased the security of their borders. President Donald Trump has revealed that the US required wall than ever, especially in the Southern Border with Mexico. On the same note, South Africa has long been willing to reduce irregular migration from neighboring countries, specifically Zimbabwe which threatens local jobs. South Africa announced that it was to erect a 40km-fence at Beitbridge Border with Zimbabwe. Beitbridge Border Post is one of the busiest border station in the SADC region. The reason for the fence was to control illegal or infected migrants. Some of the illicit migrants are fleeing from the dysfunctional Zimbabwe in anticipation of greener pastures in South Africa.

On a positive note in South Africa, everyone, including migrants enjoys free primary health care services and emergency services. South Africa has announced regulations that any foreigner has permission to remain in the country legally. As such, migrants are kept safe, and it minimized the chances to cross the border via irregular routes. South Africa possesses a good record of welcoming migrants as well as living in harmony with them. For instance, President Cyril Ramaphosa has discouraged any xenophobic attack against migrants and encouraged locals to treat migrants with respect and dignity. The International Labor for Migration and the embassy of Zimbabwe in South Africa launched a COVID-19 Humanitarian Appeal to respond to the needs of stranded migrants from Zimbabwe. In KwaZulu-Natal Province and Pretoria, UNHCR have been working with NGOs to identify and assist marginalized people such as migrants and refugees. Resultantly, food handouts were distributed to almost 20 000 vulnerable people. Furthermore, South Africa began to ease lockdown restrictions and currently on Alert -level 3. People cango shopping wearing masks, restaurants can open, but gatherings remained prohibited. Some Zimbabwean immigrants in Cape town united, mobilized   resources through social media and are assisting each other to pay rent.  In addition, they are also helping each other to buy food during these difficult moments.

Conclusion

Migrants are usually victims of any circumstance, such as global pandemics and natural disasters, no matter how hard the host government tries to protect them. The study recommends that the South African Health Department should ensure that the right of access to health services to all and existing legal frameworks are upheld. Undocumented migrants should also be considered and provided with accurate information, health services and humanitarian aid. The Zimbabwean government is encouraged to come up with long-term policies that will solve the political and economic challenges currently facing the country. It will control unnecessary migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa. The COVID-19 epidemic responses and mitigation measures in Africa must also consider the migrants, refugees and internally displaced people.

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Africa

African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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Africa: The G20 Must Recommit to Covax

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It is one year since the international community gave its backing to the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) facility to lead a worldwide effort to end the acute phase of the pandemic. The initiative aimed to ensure that every country, and not just those with sufficient money or resources, could access life-saving vaccines once they became available. As G20 health ministers prepare to meet in Rome on September 5-6, they are in a position to ensure that COVAX fulfills its mission.

A year ago, no one knew when or even if it might be possible to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, let alone the 20 that are available today. But since making its first international deliveries in February, COVAX a partnership established by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has delivered more than 235 million vaccine doses to 139 countries, and expects to deliver another billion doses in the fourth quarter. Only China, India, and the United States have delivered more. This start to the largest and most complex vaccine rollout in history has given hope to millions of people and laid solid foundations for how we respond to future pandemics.

Yet, so much more could, and should, have been achieved by now. It is unacceptable that only 1.8% of people in low-income countries have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 82% in high- and upper-middle-income countries. This shocking inequality is as economically senseless as it is destructive to human life, with the latest estimate of the cost of the slow rollout amounting to $2.3 trillion.

The world was woefully unprepared for a pandemic, and this is reflected in the challenges COVAX has faced. By the time initial funding arrived, wealthy countries had already locked up early vaccine supplies. Export bans affecting key suppliers, and difficulties experienced by many manufacturers in scaling up production to the required level, also undermined COVAX’s ability to access doses early.

Given increasing global vaccine inequity and the rise of new, more contagious coronavirus variants, we must put these challenges behind us. Thanks to the support of almost all G20 governments, alongside that of foundations and private businesses, COVAX has now raised nearly $10 billion and secured more than 600 million donated doses. All the preparations are in place for the most comprehensive vaccination effort that the world has seen.

Based on the committed orders COVAX has placed with vaccine manufacturers and the additional donations, hundreds of millions of new doses should now be available each month. We need to make sure they reach poorer countries and get into people’s arms. To avoid further delays, and for the facility to succeed, we need support from G20 leaders in four key areas.

First, we need doses, and we need them now. The premise of COVAX was always that the facility should be able to negotiate and buy its own doses. With our early vaccine access compromised, donations have played a vital role in maintaining our ability to keep doses flowing to those most in need. Of the 600 million doses pledged to COVAX to date, 100 million have now been delivered. We need more, and soon, with longer shelf lives and greater certainty so that recipient countries have time to plan their rollout. This can be achieved without jeopardizing high-income countries’ national vaccination efforts.

We also need G20 leaders to support our call for transparency. COVAX has legally binding agreements with manufacturers for more than four billion doses, but has all too often faced delays in accessing them. Without greater clarity regarding firms’ order books, it is impossible to know whether these holdups are due to production challenges or preferential treatment for bilateral arrangements. Insisting that manufacturers are transparent about their order timelines can ensure a level playing field where no one particularly those living in developing countries gets bumped to the back of the vaccine queue because of another bilateral deal.

In addition to ensuring that manufacturers keep their commitment to COVAX, governments should make global vaccine access their highest priority. Countries with pending orders for doses that they currently do not need should allow COVAX to take their place in the queue so that we can get doses to needy countries now.

Finally, lower-income countries require continued financial and technical support for their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. Strengthening national health systems will help these countries to ensure delivery of doses and mitigate the pandemic’s secondary effects, and will leave in place infrastructure critical to future global health security.

By recommitting to COVAX, G20 leaders will recommit to a multilateral solution that builds on the astounding scientific progress of the past year. Based on COVAX’s latest forthcoming supply forecast, when topped up with doses through bilateral deals, equitable COVID-19 vaccine access can protect up to 60% of the adult population in 91 lower-income countries. This would represent a huge step toward the WHO target of 70%, which is needed to suppress the coronavirus everywhere, and COVAX represents the best opportunity to achieve it.

Failure would mean more lives lost, broken health-care systems, even deadlier and more transmissible variants, and a pandemic with no end in sight. The G20 must not allow that to be an option.

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More African Countries Register Russia’s Sputnik Vaccine

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Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is a specialized technical institution of the African Union (AU) that strengthens the capacity and capability of Africa’s public health institutions as well as partnerships to detect and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats and outbreaks, based on data-driven interventions and programmes.

During the outbreak of the coronavirus, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), was established by African Union, as a component in support of the Africa Vaccine Strategy and was endorsed by the AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government on 20th of August 2020.

Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), has emphasized: “Africa has to team up with development partners to achieve its 60% continent-wide vaccination in the next two years. I think that is why we should as a collective of the continent, and of course, in partnership with the developed world make sure that Africa has a timely access to vaccines to meet our vaccination targets.”

An official media release in February 2021, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team from the African Union (AU) informed that Russia would supply and deliver 300 million Sputnik V vaccines to Africa. That step was intended to support African countries to attain their targeted immunization of 60% of the population by the year-end. That vaccine story disappeared, but instead what become so common is the speedy registration of Sputnik V on bilateral basis in various African countries.

According to the latest, Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. The use of the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been approved in Nigeria, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said in an official statement.

“The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund) announces the approval of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine against coronavirus by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control of Nigeria (NAFDAC). Nigeria has become the 68th country in the world to approve the Russian vaccine. Total population of all countries, where Sputnik V is approved for use, now exceeds 3.7 billion people, which is nearly half of the global population,” the statement said.

“Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, and the approval of Sputnik V will provide for using one of the safest and most effective vaccines in the world. Sputnik V is based on a proven human adenoviral vectors platform and is successfully used in over 50 countries. Approval in Nigeria will make an important contribution to the country’s fight against the pandemic,” CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev said.

Besides Nigeria, other African countries have registered Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Reportedly, the vaccine has been registered in Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Tunisia, the Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe.

Russia’s drive to share Sputnik V vaccine, of course, offers a chance to raise its image and strengthen alliances in Africa. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation has made efforts promoting the vaccine using all its channels. But supply and delivery have largely lagged behind, the pledges have simply not been fulfilled. Russian authorities have oftentimes said that they would step up efforts for fruitful cooperation in combating coronavirus in Africa.

Promising more than can be delivered appears to be a universal problem with coronavirus vaccines, and it is a real risk for Russia as well, said Theresa Fallon, Director of the Brussels-based Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies. “They have won the gold medal for creating this very effective vaccine,” she said. “But the problem is how are they going to implement production and delivery?”

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), with profit motivation, has attempted supplying the Russian vaccines through, Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum, from the Monarch family and a third party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to a number of African countries. For instance, the Republic of Ghana reportedly signed US$64.6 million contract for Sputnik V vaccine from Russia through Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook Al Maktoum. It was double the price from the producer as reported in the media.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin has noted, in a speech early September, that advanced countries that produce vaccines against the coronavirus do little to protect humanity from the pandemic.

“The benefits of vaccination are enjoyed mostly by advanced economies. The bulk of the vaccines is made there, and it is used to protect their own population. But very little is being done to protect humanity in the broad sense,” Putin said at the plenary session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, the Far East of Russia. “This is very bad for the producers, because all this boomerangs around the globe. For instance, in Africa the level of protection with vaccines is minimal, but contacts with the African countries continue. There is no getting away from this. This infection will return again and again.”

According to an official release obtained late February, the Sputnik V vaccine the following advantages:

• Efficacy of Sputnik V is 91.6% as confirmed by the data published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most respected medical journals; It is one of only three vaccines in the world with efficacy of over 90%; Sputnik V provides full protection against severe cases of COVID-19. 

• The Sputnik V vaccine is based on a proven and well-studied platform of human adenoviral vectors, which cause the common cold and have been around for thousands of years. 

• Sputnik V uses two different vectors for the two shots in a course of vaccination, providing immunity with a longer duration than vaccines using the same delivery mechanism for both shots. 

• The safety, efficacy and lack of negative long-term effects of adenoviral vaccines have been proven by more than 250 clinical studies over two decades. 

• The developers of the Sputnik V vaccine are working collaboratively with AstraZeneca on a joint clinical trial to improve the efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine. 

• There are no strong allergies caused by Sputnik V. 

• The price of Sputnik V is less than $10 per shot, making it affordable around the world. 

In February, peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet published an analysis from Phase III clinical trial of the Russian vaccine, showing its 91.6-percent efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19. The Sputnik V vaccine was developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology.

Sputnik V was registered in Russia on August 11, 2020 as the world’s first officially registered coronavirus vaccine. Russian vaccines have advantages as no deaths have been reported after vaccination with the Sputnik V, Alexander Gintsburg, Director of the Gamaleya Center, the vaccine developer, said and was reported by TASS News Agency. “As of today, no deaths after vaccination with Sputnik V have been registered,” he said.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund established in 2011 to make equity co-investments, primarily in Russia, alongside reputable international financial and strategic investors. RDIF acts as a catalyst for direct investment in the Russian economy. RDIF’s management is based in Moscow.

In Africa, during first of September, the coronavirus-related death toll has topped 196,190, while more than 6.9 million recoveries have been reported. South Africa accounts for a majority of coronavirus cases and deaths across Africa – 2,777,659 and 82,261 respectively. The death toll in Tunisia climbed to 23,451, and 664,034 cases have been confirmed. Egypt recorded 16,736 deaths and 288,441 coronavirus cases.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia is ranked second to South Africa (308,134 cases and 4,675 deaths) and is followed by Kenya (235,863 cases and 4,726 deaths) and Nigeria (191,805 and 2,455). The total number of COVID-19 cases has reached almost 8 million in Africa, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Africa.

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