WHO says continent urgently needs more jabs as eight countries report rise of 30% in cases in a week
African countries face a last-ditch battle against a third wave of Covid infections, as the supply of vaccines to the continent “grinds to a halt”, top health officials have warned.
“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Our priority is clear – it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of Covid-19,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa.
The WHO said the pandemic was now trending upwards in 14 countries and in the past week alone, eight countries had witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30% in cases. However, vaccine shipments to African nations have ground to a near halt.
“While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups,” Moeti said.
Only 50m doses have been received in Africa, of which 31 million doses had been administered in 50 countries with a combined population of more than a billion.
There are widespread fears among senior health officials that the continent could suffer similar or worse devastation to that seen in India, which has a more robust health system than many African countries.
Africa has officially registered almost 5m Covid-19 cases and more than 130,000 deaths, a figure representing 2.9% of global cases and 3.7% of deaths, but many experts believe the total is a very significant underestimate, and that the death toll is likely to be many times higher.
The UN-backed Covax vaccine-sharing facility that many African countries hoped would ensure equitable access worldwide has failed to provide more than a tiny fraction of the shots needed, as rich nations buy up all available supplies and Indian producers of the favoured AstraZeneca vaccine service only local demand.
Burkina Faso, which has a population of 20 million, this week received just 115,000 doses from the Covax Facility, while Rwanda and Togo each received about 100,000 Pfizer vaccine doses. In Zimbabwe, hundreds of people are being turned away from vaccination centres as the country’s supplies of China’s Sinovac vaccine appear to have run out.
Infections are also surging in Angola, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 32 members of parliament and several aides to the president, Félix Tshisekedi, are among those who have died.
Prof Jean-Marie Kayembe, a member of DRC’s anti-coronavirus taskforce, told the UN’s Radio Okapi that rising numbers of cases and “saturation” of healthcare centres made it clear that the country was “in the third [wave] at the moment”.
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SOURCE: The Guardian – Jason Burke