By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Sierra Leone's leader challenged Europeans on Thursday to remember there are "human beings on the other side" in Africa who have been left behind in the unequal global response to COVID-19.
By the start of February, only 11% of Africans were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus – far fewer than in richer parts of the world where vast and expensive inoculation campaigns have reached most of their populations.
"We feel left out," President Julius Maada Bio told Reuters while attending the European Union-African Union summit.
"So at a meeting like this we really want to ask these critical questions. Are we equal partners in this? Do we consider there are human beings on the other side?"
Many developing countries have called for intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines and treatments to be waived, but face opposition from rich nations, including many in the EU.
Bio said the pandemic was making it harder for already debt-laden African governments to provide for their people's social needs and was also undermining security.
"It undermines African governments, it makes us look as if we don't care for our people and this has security implications," he said.
Sierra Leone's West and Central African neighbours have seen a series of military coups in recent times.
Bio said there was no uniform cause for that, but he hoped the two-day gathering would address climate change, human rights and migration, as well as the dominant topic of the pandemic.
Bio spoke after France and military allies announced they would leave Mali after almost a decade based there fighting Islamist insurgents.
The Sierra Leone president said Mali should not be left as a haven for jihadists and launch-pad for attacks around the world.
The task was beyond the powers of countries in the region, he added. "We shouldn't leave the security situation in the Sahara Desert in the hands of those few states. There should be a global effort, like was done in Afghanistan … in Syria."
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by John Chalmers and Andrew Cawthorne)
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