NAIROBI, Kenya — The nurse lay in bed this month, coughing, wheezing and dizzy with fever.
It was three months after rich countries began vaccinating health workers, but Kenyans like the nurse, Stella Githaiga, had been left behind: Employed in the country’s largest public hospital, she caught the coronavirus on an outreach trip to remote communities in February, she believes, sidelining her even as Kenya struggles with a vicious third surge of infections.
Ms. Githaiga and her colleagues are victims of one of the most galling inequities in a pandemic that has exposed so many: Across the global south, health workers are being sickened and killed by a virus from which doctors and nurses in many rich countries are now largely protected.
That is just the most visible cost of a rich-poor divide that has deepened in the second year of the pandemic. Of the vaccine doses given globally, roughly three-quarters have gone to only 10 countries. At least 30 countries have not yet injected a single person.
Scientists have long warned that such unfair treatment could not only haunt poorer countries, but also rich ones, if the continued spread of the virus allows it to mutate in ways that undermine vaccines. But the greatest human costs will almost surely be borne by less wealthy nations.
the vaccine doses given globally.
“I don’t think we have the capacity, as a country and even as Africa, to treat our own,” said Hazel Miseda Mumbo, vice chancellor of the Great Lakes University of Kisumu in Kenya, who has studied the country’s health system. “While these countries in the West are still scrambling for vaccines, Africa will have to wait. It may be a sad situation.”
In a worrisome sign of how uneven distribution is, even Kenya, one of the continent’s wealthier countries, is faring badly.
dangerous variants circling the world. President Biden has promised to have vaccines for all adults in the United States by the end of May. Israel has vaccinated 60 percent of its people, and Britain has inoculated 41 percent.
Like many developing countries, Kenya is relying on the global mechanism for procuring and distributing vaccines known as Covax. The program was built on the idea that many countries, including richer ones, would use it to purchase shots as a way of spreading their bets across vaccine makers. Instead, dozens of wealthy nations bought doses straight from pharmaceutical companies, elbowing the international effort out of the way and delaying shipments to the developing world.