When Ebola struck West African countries in 2014, the Africa Governance Initiative (now the Tony Blair Institute) worked closely with the presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to actively support the coordination of their responses. There were valuable lessons learned that could not be more relevant today as African countries respond to Covid-19, face the challenge of delivering Covid-19 vaccines and simultaneously creating an enduring vaccine infrastructure.
Our partner governments across Africa identified these challenges early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, and TBI pivoted to meet this demand by first supporting the management of Covid-19 in its acute stages, to now scaling up a programme of work dedicated to delivering vaccines faster and to more people.
At the same time, African governments rightly recognised that effectively managing Covid-19 and the rollout of vaccines and other tools is interlinked with overall pandemic/epidemic preparedness and that Covid-19 also presents an opportunity for greater continental health security.
TBI’s work with governments – and access to the highest political levels – has enabled us to understand and leverage political will, embed delivery systems and help government officials devise strategic plans to support vaccine rollout. This has culminated in the Africa Vaccines Programme (AVP).
Our vaccine delivery advisors embedded in governments across the continent are working to identify and solve critical bottlenecks to roll out vaccines even faster, and looking to the future, building resilient and enduring delivery systems that could outlast Covid-19 and be able to address future pandemics and combat other diseases such as HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and polio.
Long before the first Covid-19 vaccines landed on the African continent, it became apparent that the challenge of procurement and distribution during a pandemic would be more complex than any faced before.
Most African countries were ready for the challenge – and recognised its long-term strategic significance – but simultaneously there were gaps that would stand in the way of implementation. These gaps ranged from balancing resources with other public-health programmes, training and deploying health-care workers , and managing limited cold-chain supplies for handling vaccines with specialised storage requirements.
An underlying political will to commit to vaccine rollout as a priority has been a prerequisite to combatting these challenges and futureproofing vaccine infrastructure and behaviours.
The Africa Vaccines Programme is a commitment by the Tony Blair Institute and our partner African governments to the prioritisation of vaccine delivery – and of vaccine-delivery systems and people – and demonstrates the considerable homegrown efforts to come out of Covid-19 with stronger systems and practices than before.
The Africa Vaccines Programme
The Africa Vaccines Programme (AVP) was launched in September 2021 with the primary intention of supporting governments and leaders to rapidly roll out Covid-19 vaccines.
The AVP support to governments is both operational and policy focused. It operates on a hub-and-spoke model with a “central” team responsible for the operational management and strategic direction of the programme, alongside our embedded vaccine delivery advisors (VDAs), who provide the direct coordination and project-management support to government.
The embedded VDAs represent TBI’s government-centred approach to working alongside African leaders: supporting and building rather than fly-in, fly-out. They are leading experts with a breadth of experience in vaccination programming, epidemiology, logistics, data management, strategic communications and project management, all grounded in our adaptive and context-specific approach to delivery.
Today, there are Advisors embedded across Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and Senegal supporting Covid-19 vaccine delivery, as well as at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). The VDAs provide tailored support to senior government officials to aid vaccine rollout, build and maintain relationships, and support on delivery and problem-solving.
This type of embedded support allows our experts to build trust with partner governments, understand the challenges and work to address them, and establish strong networks with in-country specialists, including key implementing partners, for example Gavi and UNICEF, epidemiologists and vaccine experts. These are the types of intangible and long-term benefits that the AVP offers, not only for Covid-19 but well into the future as African governments continue to build the systems and structures to safely manage pandemics and epidemics.
What Support Do Vaccine Delivery Advisors Provide?
The advisors are providing practical support to address five core challenges to Covid-19 vaccine rollout. These issues are relevant to any epidemic or pandemic but have been highlighted by Covid-19:
Access to vaccines and resource mobilisation to support vaccine delivery and vaccine demand generation
Coordination of government stakeholders and development partners
Logistics and supply chain management
Vaccine-data management and analysis
At the country level, the programme has already made notable progress since it was launched, including:
Supporting the revision of the National Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment and Vaccination plans in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia and Ghana
Supporting preparations for the establishment and operationalisation of the Ghana CDC
Strategy and coordination for training and deployment of health-care workers at the district level in - Burkina Faso
Supporting social mobilization campaigns in Kenya, Burkina Faso and Ghana
Rolling out improved vaccine quality management processes in Ethiopia
Introducing data visualisation tools and standard operating procedures to support vaccine delivery in Ethiopia and Burkina Faso
Overall Resource-mobilisation support for upcoming vaccine rollout intensification campaigns coordinating development-partner support to avoid duplication and identify any gaps
At the continental level, the programme directly supports the Africa CDC to ensure there is seamless coordination between global partners, donors and member countries. The VDA works closely with Africa CDC leadership in the Science Office. An example of this support is the planning and facilitation of workshops in the areas of strategic planning, Covid-19 vaccination acceleration and coordination and communication support.
In-depth, practical examples of how the AVP has supported governments to successfully deliver on their priorities will follow in subsequent blogs that will cover: communication and social mobilisation, data management, supply chains, and capacity building and coordination.
What Role Does the AVP Play in Building Health Security in Africa?
With the political focus shifting away from Covid, African governments and development partners find themselves in a crowded space with Covid now added to the list of concurrent communicable diseases that require concerted efforts to manage. The success of these efforts is underpinned by political will and more crucially, the ability to leverage this will and turn it into meaningful action.
That is why the AVP is an initiative that goes beyond Covid and looks towards the horizon of what will be needed in the decades to come. Our advisors work alongside African leaders to support the design and implementation of health systems and health institutions that can both manage the current crisis and come out of the Covid-19 pandemic with strengthened capacity, strong structures and greater pandemic preparedness.
The political will to take meaningful actions and spearhead initiatives is a critical component to building pandemic preparedness and being able to take advantage of this fleeting moment and turn it into action is more important now than ever.