Only two in ten people are fully vaccinated in Africa. Evangelical leaders speak of challenges in the vaccination campaign and the situation of Christians.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, experts have assured that it would have an uneven impact in different regions of the world.
When it came to the broad debate on vaccination, however, there were expectations that it would be somewhat homogeneous. However, criticism soon led to a reality that has confirmed this unevenness.
Not even the recent announcement by the World Health Organisation that Covid vaccination increased by 74% across Africa in June alone, after three months of declines in the number of people vaccinated, makes the situation in the region any more hopeful.
While in Europe, almost 70% of the population has received at least one dose and 66% the full course, according to the digital portal 'Our World in Data', in Africa only 26% have received at least one shot, and 21% have had all the shots.
Spanish news website Protestante Digital has contacted evangelical leaders from different parts of Africa in order to offer a broad view of how vaccination is being carried out on the continent.
In North Africa, vaccination figures in Tunisia are similar to those in European countries. With 52 % of the population fully vaccinated, and 20 % having received at least one jab, the campaign in the country is progressing well.
“More than half (53.96%) of the country's total population of 11,803,588 went to intensive vaccination centres, and this represents a positive factor in raising awareness among citizens of the need to protect themselves and those around them”, explains the president and co-founder of the Tunisian religious freedom organisation ATTALAKI, Rashed Massoud Hafnaoui.
However, Hafnaoui is also thinking of the still large percentage of the population that refuse to take vaccination, who “doses still need a wide awareness-raising process to urge them to get vaccinated”.
“The main reasons for their refusal are related to their religious and political background, as many of them believe that the Corona epidemic is the result of tests carried out by laboratories in countries that dominate the global economy to produce dangerous biological weapons that they test in poor societies, especially Muslim ones”, points out the president of ATTALAKI.
In Malawi, the reality of vaccination is very different from Tunisia. There, only 11% of the population has received a dose, and only 7.6% are fully vaccinated.
“Since the day the first shipment of Covid 19 vaccine there have been hesitancy in vaccination due to misinformation, disinformation and lack of general knowledge about Covid 19 vaccine”, says the General Secretary of the Assemblies of God in Malawi, Matilda Matabwa.
She explains that “there were myth that the vaccine is from the devil and his underworld, and that Covid 19 vaccine would affect the ability of bearing children in women. This resulted that women were less likely to trust the vaccine out of fear related to fertility”.
That is why ”vaccination campaign has encountered challenges driven by concerns regarding safety, efficacy, religious and cultural beliefs”.
“Those concerns, combined with abundant misinformation, are fuelling widespread vaccine hesitancy despite the pandemic impact on the health and welfare of billions of people. The low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern, and it remains an uphill battle to reach the target of 60% by the end of 2023”, adds Matabwa.
South Africa, the continent's economic leader and also the country with the most infections since the start of the pandemic, has experienced a particularly atypical vaccination campaign, with the crisis of its own variant and the discovery that AstraZeneca's vaccine was less effective against it, after the country had purchased millions of doses.
Despite the setbacks, the general secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA), Moss Ntlha, says that “the majority of the country has been vaccinated”, but data compiled by 'Our World in data', show that only 32% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
“The vaccination programme is still going on, in the face of much hesitancy by those who don’t want it. Some don’t want it because the first jab had painful side effects, and so they have not proceeded to get the second Pfeizer jab. Boosters are even harder to get mass uptake”, underlines Ntlha.
“There has always been two camps in our country. Those who say Vaccination is a sinister ploy of control by authorities and those who embrace vaccination”.
The three leaders do agree on the economic and social impact of the pandemic on society.
“In Malawi the pandemic has had a negative effect on the livelihoods of most people”, because of “ the government Covid 19 measures and restrictions. The lockdown and the closure of borders, affected the income through export, tourism and foreign direct investment”, points out Matabwa.
Meanwhile, in Tunisia, “the spread of the Corona epidemic, have deepened the stifling crisis that Tunisians are experiencing. It led to a rise in the unemployment rate to 18% and a rise in the poverty rate at the national level to 15%, which caused the growth of social protests”, recalls Hafnaoui.
“Many businesses in South Africa have not recovered from Covid and thousands of people have lost their jobs. Unemployment has worsened. Covid has added to an already high unemployment figure”, explains Ntlha.
Throughout Africa, evangelical churches have suffered from Covid as much or more than the rest of the population in their countries.
In Tunisia, “all churches closed their doors due to government measures, many Christians lost their jobs and many had to seek aid. Some of them were subjected to violent attacks during the quarantine by neighbours and with the connivance of the police, who refuse to register complaints from Christian citizens”, says Hafnaoui.
The general secretary of TEASA stresses that “South African churches have not fully recovered from the hard lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic. Many report decreased attendance, as well as decreased revenue”.
Furthermore, “churches have also been divided between the pro vaccination and those who were anti vaccination”.
The pandemic has also been an opportunity for many churches on the continent to show extraordinary solidarity.
In Malawi, says Matabwa, very few churches have stopped their activity and simply reduced the frequency and size of their services, while maintaining their commitment to their community.
For some South African congregations, Ntlha underlines, the pandemic has been “an opportunity to show compassion to their neighbours and communities. Food distribution and care helped people experience Christian compassion. New churches have also been planted as a result of such compassionate outreach”.
“Despite the mistreatment of Christians in Tunisia, many of them actively participated in supporting the efforts of the state and civil society”,points out Hafnaoui.
Churches and Christians “contributed extensively to awareness campaigns and granted food aid to the needy, whether Christians or Muslims, in the spirit of brotherhood, love and for strengthening peaceful coexistence”, concludes the president of ATTALAKI.