As Developed Nations Spring Back to Life, the World’s Most Vulnerable Struggle on the Sideline

As the vaccination race picks up steam in some parts of the world, seven of the Least Developed Countries - most of them in Africa - have not been able to start vaccinating at all.

The Least Developed Countries are facing daunting challenges in accessing vaccines and rolling them out. This is most acute in Africa, where less than 2% of global vaccine doses have been administered.

Even where some vulnerable nations have been able to secure vaccine supplies, the logistics or financial needs in rolling out mass vaccination campaigns have been prohibitive in achieving scale.

By the end of April 2021, South Sudan, with a population of 11 million, had administered just 947 doses. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) received 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses through Covax but paused its rollout due to safety concerns in Europe.

Since vaccinations finally began in April, only 1,700 people were vaccinated and 75% of the country’s doses, nearing expiration, were hastily dispatched elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Malawi was forced to destroy 16,000 doses – 6% of a consignment that arrived from India, the African Union and Covax – because of date expiration. It has also struggled to fund its national vaccination campaign.

By contrast, the United States has surpassed 200 million injections completed and with stockpiles in the tens of millions. On the other side of the Atlantic, growing vaccine numbers are allowing the European Union to ease travel restrictions for foreign travelers and reignite the bloc’s tourism industry.

Small Island Developing States are also lagging far behind. By the end of April, 9% of the combined 72 million people living in small islands had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

A similar pattern of vulnerable nations being left behind is evident with COVID-19 related funding.

The Most Vulnerable 91 campaign by the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) has been tracking COVID-19 related funding by international partners for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

While funding has increased for the three groups of countries to the tune of US$30 billion, it pales in comparison to the global response to COVID-19 which is valued at US$21 trillion.

Many pre-existing vulnerabilities for vulnerable nations were brought into stark relief by the pandemic. These include an over-reliance on a limited number of economic sectors, high levels of debt and challenges in mobilizing public and private finance. With strong support from the international community required, recovery will need to focus on addressing the most critical structural challenges and building the resilience of key economic sectors.

If poorer countries are sidelined in recovery efforts, the global economic loss could be as much as US$9 trillion, more than the annual GDP of Japan and Germany combined. This is not just a moral necessity but an economic no brainer. As long as vulnerable nations remain behind, no single country will fully recover.