NAIROBI, March 25 (Reuters) – The first 723,000 of up to 7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses that MTN Group is donating to African countries have arrived in nine nations, the African Union’s disease control body said on Thursday.

Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong told a news conference that Ghana, Gambia, Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, Mauritius and Togo had received doses from the South African telecoms company.

Several other countries, including South Sudan and Malawi, are due to receive doses in the coming days.

MTN is donating $25 million to support the African Union’s vaccination programme. The doses will be distributed to health workers across the bloc’s 55 member states, MTN said this week.

African countries have begun vaccinating their citizens only in recent weeks after richer countries secured early supplies.

Africa is relying primarily on free doses from the World Health Organization-backed COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, which aims to secure 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021. (Reporting by Nairobi newsroom, Editing by Maggie Fick and Timothy Heritage)

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