By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
In recent weeks, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Angola, Nigeria and Senegal became among the first countries in Africa to receive several million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in the global rollout as part of the COVAX initiative.
First on that list, however, was Ghana which received 600,000 doses of the Vaccine on 24 February. Since the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in March 2020, more than 80,000 Ghanaians have been infected with the virus and over close to 600 died. This shipment of the vaccines, therefore, was welcome news on the path to recovery for Ghanaian citizens.
As the west-African nation sets about kicking off its Covid-19 vaccination campaign, the Chief Executive Officer of Caritas Ghana, Mr. Samuel Zan Akologo, spoke to Vatican News in an interview, reflecting on the country’s vaccination priorities and the role of the Church as well as faith-based organizations in ensuring equal access to the vaccines.
Mr. Akologo also serves as the head of the department of human development of the Bishops’ Conference of Ghana. In that capacity, he provides public policy advice to the Bishops’ Conference.
Vaccine reception: a welcome development
Mr. Akologo said that the general impression on the reception of the vaccines in Ghana was positive. He commended the country’s government for its leadership in always keeping the citizens abreast of developments concerning the pandemic.
However, as the inoculations begin, he notes that there are some people who are still suspicious of the efficacy of the vaccines – a suspicion most likely fueled by conspiracy theories and misinformation spread by some quarters.
Pope Francis’ calls for equal access to vaccines
In light of the Holy Father’s constant calls for equitable distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Akologo notes that the Pope’s outspokenness in this regard has provided the impetus for faith-based organizations and other like-minded groups to become more involved in efforts towards ensuring equal access to all, regardless of social class.
At the same time, the Pope’s calls have served the purpose of calming the doubts of people concerning the vaccines, particularly in a context where some of the people promoting the doubts are people of faith and religious leaders. On top of that, the Ghanaian Bishops recently issued a letter to the faithful aimed at dispelling some of the myths surrounding the vaccines and encouraging citizens to be vaccinated.
National vaccination distribution plan
Through the Ghana Health Service (GHS), the nation’s government plans to prioritize some demographic groups in its vaccination campaign which began on Tuesday.
Mr. Akologo explained that the first criterion considered was geographical. He notes the worst-hit areas of Ghana – the Greater Accra, Central and Ashanti regions – will be receiving special attention in the vaccination campaign.
Another factor considered is the professional priority given to frontliners including doctors, nurses and other paramedical personnel who are exposed in their line of duty, yet have the task of caring for the health of everyone. In addition to these, security personnel – the military, the police and other agents of security will be getting preferential consideration.
Top political office holders will also be targeted in the rollout. This move, Mr. Akologo notes, “is very good as it helps to address the skepticism that we were experiencing,” especially as these high-level officials will receive the vaccines in front of the cameras of the press.
Age will also be a consideration in the rollout. The elderly, especially those above 60 years, will be given priority in the current vaccination plan.
…and the non-priority populations?
Considering the 600,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccines received relative to a population of over 30 million Ghanaians, Mr. Akologo says it is “a drop of water in an ocean” as it is largely insufficient. However, the Ghanaian government projects that another consignment is expected to arrive in the upcoming months.
Beginning with this batch and when other consignments of vaccines arrive the country, Mr. Akologo hopes that Caritas, alongside other organizations, will be involved in “keeping civic vigilance” to make sure the government is transparent in its rollout plan. He also hopes in the process to be able to highlight the importance of those in the peripheries and deprived areas especially the aged and other vulnerable populations.
Already, Caritas is working through its network in the 20 dioceses of Ghana to begin its own campaign. Inspired by Pope Francis’ Encyclical Fratelli tutti in which the Pope encourages collaboration between like-minded organizations to make their message go further, Caritas is also hoping to collaborate with other partners in its capacity as the Ghanaian Bishops’ Conference’s instrument for relief, development and policy advocacy.
Appeal for international solidarity
“We need to think about the other impact issues of Covid-19 and to see how African governments and other poor governments can be supported to deal with this,” Mr. Akologo said,
He highlighted that the ongoing pandemic, as a public health issue, has stretched the social services of many countries to the limit, particularly in the health sector. He notes that to reinforce ongoing efforts at cushioning the pandemic’s effects, governments need a lot more resources.
It is in this regard that Caritas Ghana is coupling their Covid-19 relief work with a debt-cancellation campaign which is supported by SECAM and other Catholic organizations to enable poor countries get some relief and permit them to invest in social services. Mr. Akologo also calls for international solidarity so that restrictions put on patent rights to the Covid-19 vaccines will be loosened to enable local production in African countries and at the same time, improve access to the vaccines for all.