Whether it’s via an email, text message or good old-fashioned letter, the moment you receive word that you’re eligible to book your vaccine is a memorable one. About a month ago I found myself obsessively scrolling through my NHS app, searching for that golden ticket to get my coronavirus jab. When I got the call, I couldn’t help but feel fortunate to live in the UK, a country with a speedy vaccine rollout. But it dawned on me at the time that in my home country of South Africa, my 86-year-old grandmother was still waiting for her turn.
With less than 2 per cent of its population vaccinated, South Africa is currently facing a third wave of infections, driven largely by the spread of the Delta variant. In a bid to combat this alarming spike in cases, president Cyril Ramaphosa has imposed strict lockdown measures. These include school closures, a ban on alcohol and the prohibition of both indoor and outdoor gatherings. South Africa’s sluggish vaccine rollout will no doubt be measured in the lives lost to the virus. As it stands, the official death toll tops 60,000 but the actual figure is likely three times that according to the number of excess deaths recorded by the Medical Research Council.
Many nations are facing similarly dire situations. But in the case of South Africa, the problem is not a lack of infrastructure, it’s the result of corruption and poor planning. Government leadership failed to engage early enough with pharmaceutical companies to secure vaccines. What’s more, a string of allegations of misconduct against figures including the country’s health minister Zweli Mkhize has weakened the government’s credibility. “They have not prepared properly or at all on the vaccine front, on the hospital front, on the procurement front,” Tony Leon, a former MP and one-time leader of the opposing Democratic Alliance party, tells me. “The only thing they can do now is use blunt instruments like lockdowns and liquor bans.”
If South Africa is to stand a chance of recovering from the economic hardships induced by the pandemic, it needs to be vaccinating people at a much faster rate. For this to happen, corruption must be stamped out and a new generation of leaders with honest track records must be appointed. The world will not be free of the pandemic’s grip until all grandmothers in all countries are protected.