Since late 2019 till date, the world has continued to battle with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes – COVID-19. As of Tuesday, May 11, the world has seen 158,993,826 cases with an attendant 3.3 million deaths. Despite global and national efforts at mitigating this disease, it appears the pandemic is still quite a long way from ending.
While some high-income countries are seeing reduced infection rates, hospitalizations, and deaths, low and middle-income countries, which still struggle to get enough vaccines for their populations, appear on the cusp of greater crisis with the pandemic, as already seen in India and a few of its neighbouring countries.
Beyond the lack of vaccines, there are also issues of vaccine hesitancy, lack of political leadership and general trivialization of the disease in some countries. It is therefore without doubt that the world needs a multi-pronged approach to fight the pandemic and save lives as well as improve economic livelihoods across the world, especially in Africa.
With the rising cases in India, which hosts the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing plant, there has been a reduction in vaccine supply chain, including vaccines under the global-funded mechanism, COVAX. COVAX is a financial and operational facility that mobilizes funds from donors and high-income countries, in order to deliver vaccines to low and middle-income countries that cannot afford to pay for those vaccines or pay for them at the market rates that richer countries can afford.
A Nigerian in the diaspora who has been advocating for vaccine equity in global fight against COVID-19 is Dr Luther-King Okunade Fasehun. He is currently a PhD student in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Temple University, in the United States.
Fasehun has continued to advocate for more contributions to COVAX, from even more countries. He pitches this advocacy based on well-informed research that has shown that COVID-19 anywhere is still COVID-19 everywhere. According to him, the line between global health and public policy continues to thin out, and the current pandemic shows this much more clearly than ever before.
Public policy guides vaccine procurement or development, as much as it drives prioritization of resources for vaccination. According to Fasehun, public policy is the father of foreign policy. How the leadership of a country engages its neighbours, be they close friends or adversaries far away, is determined by the public policy at home.
He believes foreign policy is designed to serve public policy. As such, whether or not a rich country will support poorer countries in their COVID-19 struggles is hugely dependent on the optics of such efforts at home. Political leaders want to be seen by the citizenry as doing all things in the citizens’ favour. As such, it is crucial that global health experts continue to show political office holders in high- income countries how and why vaccine equity is in the interests of their citizens.
Another issue is vaccine hesitancy, which remains a complex issue. It is rooted in cultural, socio-economic, religious, and philosophical foundations. As such, there will be no one-size-fits-all approach to tackling this challenge. However, Fasehun encourages nations to clearly distinguish vaccine hesitancy from vaccine resistance and to deploy approaches to these layers appropriately.
In Africa, as in most low- and middle-income countries, Fasehun suggests that the best approach is to prioritize the engagement of vaccine-hesitant individuals, groups, and communities. Essentially, these people are not totally against all vaccines, as the vaccine-resistant individuals and groups.
Global health and public policy can work together to mitigate vaccine hesitancy. In his role as a Member of the Child Health Technical Working Group of the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, Fasehun has made direct pitches to the Minister on approaches to utilize in the engagement of mothers, when they come to the healthcare centers for their child’s health needs, in order to engage vaccine-hesitant mothers and encourage them to accept COVID-19 vaccine.
Women are strong social factors in the families and communities in Africa, and their knowledge, attitudes and practices can build confidence in vaccines in communities. This has been demonstrated in the American Rescue Plan, by the current United States Government. This Plan provides specific funding for building vaccine confidence among individuals and families and highlights the role of confidence-builders like women. This, in the doctor’s estimation, is an excellent approach where global public health synergizes well with public policy.
He demonstrates this, through his multi-modal training in a business/management school; medical school; one of the world’s top public policy institutes and a graduate school of public health based in the United.
It is expected that global health leaders will continue to advocate for a great synergy between global public health and public policy. This is particularly crucial for fledgeling democracies in Africa, but it is equally important for even more advanced democracies abroad. The world can only be safe if all parts of it are safe.
The role of national public policies in achieving this safety cannot be overstated.
About Dr Luther-King Fasehun
Fasehun trained as a medical doctor in Nigeria. He practised as a physician in urban and rural areas of Nigeria, before proceeding to Italy to study at the SDA Bocconi School of Management, one of Europe’s top-ranked business schools.
There, he studied for a Master’s degree in International Healthcare Management, Economics and Policy, with a specialization in Global Health and Development (GH&D).
He worked as an Intern and Research Assistant at the World Health Organization (WHO) global headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. In this role, he helped to shape the New Funding Model (NFM) of the world’s primal funding agency for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
Following his work at the WHO, Fasehun returned to Africa, rising to the position of Country Director of Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA), managing the organization’s operations and projects in Ghana, Nigeria, and Uganda. While at the WBFA, he honed his expertise in global health, as he traversed the world as an advocate, programme manager and researcher; helping to build a safer world, especially for women and children. At various times, he was the lead of programs and initiatives for the WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria.
Fasehun later returned to Europe, where he served as the first-ever public health professional to be appointed as the Policy Leaders Fellow of the School of Transnational Governance of the European University Institute (EUI), in Florence, Italy. There, he served to establish the foundations of a first-of-its-kind policy advocacy group for improving maternal and child health in sub-Saharan Africa.
Another crucial aspect of his thought leadership is his approach to mentorship for the next phase of global health professionals. Some of his mentees have included Fulbright Scholars from New York University, who have now gone on to lead COVID-19 mitigation efforts in New York City – the most hard-hit metropolitan area in the United States.
He has also mentored a former medical officer who is currently rounding off his Master’s degree in Immunology at Oxford University, and has now secured a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship to attend his doctorate studies in an even deeper dive into how cellular immunity works.
Fasehun continues to offer pro bono advisory to young professionals in global health and development across Ghana, the United States, Kenya, Nigeria, Canada, and South Africa. It is his utmost belief that preventing another pandemic requires adequate use of knowledge garnered from current COVID-19.
He is currently a PhD student in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Temple University, in the United States, even as he continues to offer his pro bono advisory to global health institutions and agencies. He seeks to contribute towards the improvements of livelihoods in Africa. It is also worthy of note that while in Nigeria, Fasehun served as an advisor in public health to the Office of the Senate President, the third-highest political office in Africa’s largest democracy.
His expertise is built on a synergy between global health and public policy. This has informed his contributions to the COVID-19 debate in the past months.