New US consul positive about the vaccine roll-out

Independent on Saturday | April 10, 2021 | Tanya Waterworth

Durban – New US Consul General in Durban, Anne Linnee, is positive about a successful Covid vaccine roll-out in South Africa because of the country’s well established community health system.

Linnee who arrived in Durban to take up her position in October, also applauded SA scientists for their forefront research into Covid-19.

Speaking from years of diplomatic experience, including overseas tours in Nouakchott, Cape Town, Islamabad, Lahore, Shanghai and Dubai, Linnee said: “We have been working with the South African national Department of Health on how to support the vaccine roll-out. South Africa has a robust, well developed network which is well placed for the vaccination programme. I’m optimistic that the health department will be able to roll out effectively.”

Describing South Africa and the United States as having a close relationship, Linnee said R764 million in support was provided to SA during the pandemic for Covid response requirements, such as PPE (personal protective equipment).

The United States has also assisted to the tune of US$2 billion in the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative which is aimed at ensuring all countries have access to safe and effective vaccines. A further US$2 billion is in the pipeline upon receipt of other donor pledges, said Linnee, who has been vaccinated.

The Covax programme is led by Unicef, the Vaccine Alliance (formerly the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations, or GAVI), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), among other organisations.

“South African scientists have really been at the forefront, particularly regarding the research coming out of South Africa,” said Linnee.

“We are also still very focused on our HIV/Aids initiative where we have made tremendous strides over the last 20 years,” she said.

It was this HIV/Aids initiative, the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Pepfar) created in 2003 to saves lives during the AIDS epidemic, which has provided Linnee’s insight into the community healthcare network, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal as South Africa prepares for its mass vaccine roll-out.

Having previously been in Cape Town, Linnee had also visited KwaZulu-Natal “many times” and knows the province and the healthcare system well. Paying tribute to healthcare workers, she said: “SA’s healthcare system has done an amazing job over the last 20 years, the healthcare workers in particular whose commitment and passion is very commendable.”

Since Pepfar started, close to 3.5 million people have received HIV testing and counselling, with more than 1.3 million people on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment.

In 2015, the Dreams programme was also launched under Pepfar which aimed at reducing HIV infections in young women, as well as confronting structural drivers which play a role in HIV risk, such as poverty, gender equality, sexual violence and lack of access to education and economic empowerment.

At that time, close to 1500 young women and adolescent girls were newly infected with HIV each week in South Africa and in 2020, this number had dropped to 850. The programme was expanded in October last year to increase support for skills training and job readiness for young women, as well as accelerating the availability of Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), an HIV prevention method.

Looking forward, Linnee highlighted that the US’s second area of priority in South Africa was “working on how to emerge from the economic challenges encountered by the country during the pandemic and looking to grow the trade relationship”, particularly among the youth and women, with focus on young farmers and the agricultural sector. She added that improving the economy had to be underpinned by a healthy population.

“I’m excited to be in South Africa and to see such a diverse, open and democratic society. Some people I have spoken to lament Covid, but you can lament Covid because you know about it and you can talk about it,” she said, adding that was not always the case in all countries.

“One of the advantages of moving during the pandemic was the opportunity to see a variety of responses. No-one is doing it perfectly, everyone is getting it a bit right, we can all learn from one another,” Linnee said.

On stability in the region, given the brutal attack on the town of Palma in northern Mozambique by IS insurgents two weeks ago and this week’s SADC meeting, Linnee condemned the attack, saying the US would continue working with Mozambique on counter-terrorism and extremism. She also noted the US’s desire to strengthen security co-operation with neighbouring countries, particularly with South Africa given the key role it plays in regional security.

Credit: Originally published in The Independent on Saturday, April 10, 2021