The Mastercard Foundation announced Tuesday a $1.3 billion initiative to galvanize Africa's coronavirus vaccine campaign through a partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
The program will acquire vaccines for at least 50 million people and invest in vaccine production capacity on the continent, a joint press statement from the foundation and the Africa CDC said.
The campaign aims to help the African Union meet its goal of vaccinating at least 60 percent of the continent's population by the end of 2022. So far, less than two percent of Africans have received at least one dose.
The United Nations warned last week that the continent was poorly prepared for a third wave of the virus, owing to the sluggishness of the vaccine rollout and the lack of overall health care infrastructure compared with rich countries.
The initiative will help African countries accelerate the rollout of vaccines and "go a long way to begin to enable us and arm us to fight this pandemic," John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, said at a briefing.
Tuesday's announcement "will be remembered when the history of this pandemic is written as the turning point and defining moment in our fight against Covid-19 on the continent," Nkengasong said.
Reeta Roy, president of the Mastercard Foundation, said the program would enable Africa to "undertake this historic vaccination campaign across the continent."
The Canada-based Mastercard Foundation was established in 2006 when Mastercard became a public company.
Africa has had more than 4.9 million Covid-19 cases and 132,786 deaths, according to the African Union.
In a survey last month, the World Health Organization found that health facilities and personnel, which are crucial for critically ill Covid patients, are grossly inadequate in many African countries.
Of 23 countries surveyed, it found that most had less than one intensive care unit (ICU) bed per 100,000 people, and only one third had mechanical ventilators.
By comparison, rich countries such as Germany and the United States have more than 25 ICU beds per 100,000 people.