18 June 2021
The role of banks in the Covid-19 intervention and vaccine rollout
By Grace Murage
Over a year since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, countries across the globe are rallying to recover socially and economically from the crisis. However, true recovery requires sustained prevention and intervention measures, and this requires funding. Not all local governments can fight Covid-19 at pace, on their own. The right public-private sector partnerships can drive momentum and unlock funding channels at this critical moment in the pandemic. What then, can banks do to assist in Covid-19 interventions and the vaccine rollout?
In terms of financing the vaccine rollout, Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) have come to the fore. For instance Afrexim, a key client of RMB, launched a $2bn guarantee facility for the procurement of vaccines across Africa. This is just the tip of the iceberg as the opportunity to address the financing gap in this area is huge. Banks can step in to support DFIs, but this will need to look slightly different to traditional commercial loan arrangements. In this case, unconventional financing approaches will help finance worthy initiatives quickly and efficiently. RMB, for example, is exploring the option of sustainability bonds with a number of clients to help governments procure the much needed Covid-19 vaccine.
Banks also have the resources and influence to rally behind the healthcare industry. Economic activity can only resume to what it was before with the lifting of restrictions on movement. This will only be possible once countries achieve herd immunity on vaccination. Africa is currently lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to vaccinations, registering only 1.5% of the total vaccines administered globally. At RMB, our SPIRE fund played an instrumental role at the height of the pandemic, raising funds for Covid-19 mitigation efforts in South Africa. Now, the fund is partnering with South Africa’s Solidarity Fund to support the rollout of vaccines across the country including the setting up of maximum vaccination sites. This is something that the banking sector across Africa should look into supporting.
In Africa, the manufacturing of vaccines locally will dramatically increase the pace of rollouts across the continent. Rwanda is currently in talks with Pfizer and BioNTech to set up a manufacturing plant for local production of Covid-19 vaccines. Senegal is also in advanced talks with Belgian biotech group- Univercells for local production of vaccines from as early as next year. When these plans crystallise, they present an important opportunity for banks to assist with funding the infrastructure of vaccine manufacturing facilities.
The above financial interventions are the most pressing, but there is a larger, overarching priority to consistently and constructively fund the healthcare sector on the continent. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us we are only as strong as our healthcare systems. As funding institutions, we need to focus on strengthening our healthcare systems, equipping our hospitals with the right equipment, as well as supporting and financing local innovations such the local manufacturing of ventilators, hospital beds, and oxygen plants.
The African continent continues to face a raft of other communicable diseases over and above the Covid-19 pandemic, such as malaria, HIV, and TB. The financial services sector has an integral role to play in the fight against these diseases. The right interventions can bridge the gap between the public and private sector, assisting African countries to bolster their healthcare systems and position their economies for a hopeful future.
Murage is Regional Head: Financial Institutions – East and Southern Africa for RMB