The United States will increase coronavirus vaccine assistance to 11 African countries, officials said Thursday, in an effort to prevent future variants and bolster inoculation efforts in the least vaccinated continent.

Through the Global Vaccine Access Initiative, or Global Vax, the Biden administration will provide “intensive financial, technical, and diplomatic support” to African countries that have recently shown the ability to accelerate vaccine adoption. , according to a press release from the United States Agency for Immunization. International Development.

The agency said it selected a group of sub-Saharan African countries – Angola, Eswatini, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – based on the burden of Covid- 19 on their populations, the capacity of their health systems, their readiness to deliver vaccine doses quickly in the absence of supply constraints, and their ability to effectively deploy additional US investments.

The Global Vax initiative began in December to help countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, get more vaccines in more weapons. Even though African countries have received more vaccines, many of them have struggled to distribute them due to a shortage of ultra-cold chain freezers needed to keep doses from expiring and due to difficulties in deliver them to remote towns and villages. Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation have also posed problems.

With additional financial assistance from the Biden administration, these 11 African countries will receive “increased commitment and funding from the U.S. government to rapidly assess needs and increase immunization rates, including support from experts here in the United States.” United and on the ground,” the statement said. .

The latest US government support comes as the World Health Organization began sending 42 experts to at least 18 African countries facing challenges in administering vaccines. For three to six months – and in some cases up to a year – these experts are tasked with helping countries like Burundi, Ethiopia and Mozambique with financial planning, vaccine stock management and improving public health measures.

Currently, only 12% of Africa’s population – or 168 million people – have been fully immunized, according to the WHO, with Africa accounting for just 3.5% of the 10.3 billion doses administered worldwide.

On average, six million people are vaccinated every week in Africa, but health officials say must increase to around 36 million if the continent is to achieve the common goal of vaccinating 70% of the population of each country by the middle of this year.

The disparity in access to vaccines has been a contentious issue over the past year, with African leaders and public health officials accusing wealthy countries of stockpiling doses and flouting equity in vaccines. vaccines by administering boosters. The debate over equity, production and distribution of vaccines took center stage this week when European and African leaders met in Brussels.

On Friday, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that six African countries — Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia — would be the first to have access to the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said he welcomed the commitment.

“This is an initiative that will allow us to manufacture our own vaccines and that, for us, is very important,” Ramaphosa said in a statement. “It means mutual respect, mutual recognition of what we can all bring to the party, investing in our savings, investing in infrastructure and in many ways giving back to the continent.”