- South Africa's top infectious diseases expert has asked billionaires to help fight coronavirus variants in Africa.
- Tulio de Oliveira said Africa needs financial support "to control and extinguish variants."
- His plea comes amid concerns about a "worrying" new variant that has spread fast across southern Africa.
South Africa's leading infectious diseases expert has appealed to the world's billionaires for financial support for Africa after a coronavirus variant with a concerning number of mutations emerged in the country.
Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa's Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said on Twitter Thursday that the new variant, which is now responsible for the majority of new COVID-19 cases in the country, was "really worrisome" in terms of its mutations.
de Oliveira pleaded to "all billionaires in this world" to support Africa financially to "control and extinguish variants," and name-checked Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos. He also pleaded with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and others to help finance the fight.
"By protecting its poor and oppressed population we will protect the world," de Oliveira said. "Our poor and deprived population cannot be in lockdown without financial support."
South Africa has been praised for its fast response in detecting the variant, B.1.1.529, and sounding the alarm.
B.1.1.529 has 32 mutations in the part of the virus that attaches to cells — which is also the target for most existing vaccines and antibody drugs. This could make the virus more infectious, and existing vaccines less effective against it.
Adrian Puren, the acting executive director at South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said in a statement Thursday that experts were "working overtime" to understand the new variant and its implications.