Next Africa: Bad Time for South Africa to Lose a Health Minister | #socialmedia

Welcome to Next Africa, a weekly newsletter of where the continent stands now — and where it’s going next.

South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has been put on leave, just as the nation’s long-awaited and much-criticized Covid-19 vaccine rollout is getting underway.

He’s embroiled in a scandal over a communications contract at his department that didn’t follow proper procedures and is alleged to have benefited his family. He’s denied wrongdoing but will now need to clear his name.

Zweli Mkhize.

For the politician who was first praised for a rapid lockdown, then pilloried for failing to secure vaccines, it’s embarrassing. For South Africans, it’s emblematic of the government’s troubled vaccine program that’s been set back in turn by ineptness and misfortune.

Mkhize’s department failed to engage directly with pharmaceutical companies to buy vaccines in 2020, even as four firms announced trials in the country.

Then as it scrambled to do so, the first vaccines it secured — AstraZeneca shots made under license in India — were found in February to be less effective against a virus variant first identified in the country. The delivery of Johnson & Johnson doses, packaged in South Africa and reserved for the government, has also been put on hold because of an ingredient mix up in the U.S.

“There’s no doubt we were late in the game and we were at the end of the queue,” said Martin Kingston, the vice president of a business organization that’s helping the government distribute vaccines. “How would we know that the variant emerges in South Africa is going to have 22% efficacy for AstraZeneca?”

With just over 1.5 million doses administered in the nation of 60 million people, South Africa has vaccinated a smaller proportion of is population than Zimbabwe or Angola.

Bad luck not withstanding, most analysts agree that Africa’s most developed country could have, and should have done better.

News & Opinion

Budget Day | Three East African states are betting on an economic recovery from the coronavirus fallout to boost revenues and lower fiscal deficits projected at a combined $16.4 billion in the year starting July 1. Finance ministers of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania presented their 2021-22 budgets on Thursday, projecting growth in revenue as economic activity picks up. Spending plans have been increased in the countries, except Uganda.

Budget Gap

East Africa’s biggest economies plan to cut their fiscal deficits

Source: Finance ministries of respective countries

Virus Update | The Mastercard Foundation will provide $1.3 billion to support the coronavirus vaccination program in Africa. Funding will be deployed in partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention to procure shots for about 50 million people. The announcement comes as the least-inoculated continent faces a third wave of infections amid a shortage of vaccines. Meanwhile, a 54-year old man who had received two doses of a vaccine died of the disease in Seychelles on Thursday.

Tech Unicorn | Nigeria’s biggest mobile payments company is vying to become Africa’s next unicorn, and plans to expand to Ethiopia and Mexico. Paga, whose backers include U.S. billionaire Tim Draper and former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill, boasts 17 million unique users in Africa’s most populous country. Paga processed $8 billion worth of transactions in the past four years, and could reach a valuation of $1 billion in a year or two, according to Chief Executive Officer Tayo Oviosu.

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Paga founder and CEO Tayo Oviosu.

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