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Brief # 116 – Foreign Policy

How the Biden Administration is Helping Africa Address COVID-19

By Avery Roe

June 10, 2021

 

Policy Summary 

Following the Trump Administration’s policy towards Africa which was largely characterized with expletives and apathy, the Biden Administration has significant room for improvement and a renewed relationship with the entire continent, especially in the context of the continued COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination process.

As Africa reaches a third wave of COVID-19 there is a renewed urgency to find ways to get vaccines to the continent. On December 3, 2020, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a 60 percent vaccination target. As of June 3, they are averaging one dose per 100 people, compared to a global average of 23 doses per 100 people.

As the United States develops a vaccine surplus and The Biden administration seeks to re-invest in its relationship with Africa there has been a push for the United States to donate its surplus vaccines to African countries. The White House has already committed to donating 5 million doses to Africa as part of a larger commitment of donations to countries around the world. Last week, The administration also committed to purchasing and donating half a billion vaccines, though the exact details of where they are going are still unclear.

China is also working to become a prominent vaccine donor. While they have been unable to donate up to this point; President Xi Jinping and the chairman of SinoPharm, the manufacturer of the leading Chinese vaccine, have both spoken on China’s willingness to provide vaccines to African countries for low prices. 

Analysis 

While it does not take much to improve over the Africa policy of the previous administration, The Biden Administration has made significant strides, especially in the past few days. There is undoubtedly still room for improvement, as many have pointed out. The Biden Administration needs to step up to help stop COVID-19 with bigger donations. It is unclear why the Biden Administration has not committed further, though it may have something to do with negotiations with vaccine companies.

While President Biden has said that these vaccines are not coming with strings attached, that they are solely to save lives, there is also a benefit of improved relations with African countries and the rest of the world. These donations will hopefully go a long way in establishing goodwill and more positive foreign relations for the United States. They will also address Chinese opportunities for influence.

The donation of vaccines will help the United States  re-enter the international community after losing significant influence under the previous administration. Not only is vaccine donation a charitable and helpful way to use the surplus that the United States has developed, but vaccines can also be a great tool to build relationships and influence in the region. 

One thing that has been overlooked in the discussion of COVID-19 relief is the donation of tests. While the United States struggled early in the pandemic with testing availability, there is now a surplus of tests around the country. Africa is generally lagging in testing availability. Uganda, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Ethiopia, and South Sudan are especially behind. If for whatever reason the United States is unable to donate vaccines, donating tests would be a very helpful alternative. Testing has proven crucial to implementing quarantine procedures and understanding the spread of the disease all over the world.

Overall, the commitment that the United States has made is incredible and has the potential to save many lives and work to repair relations with Africa. As the administration continues to make donation pledges  it will be interesting to watch the follow-through and how the pledges can continue. Ideally, The Biden Administration will continue to donate many vaccines to African countries which will not only help to curb COVID-19, but also improve American-African relations.

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