By Sola Ogundipe
The World Health Organisation, WHO has raised the alarm that Africa is in danger of being left behind in the race for COVID-19 vaccines even as countries in other regions strike bilateral deals, driving up prices.
This is coming as death rates from the pandemic across the continent have risen above the global average in the wake of hospital systems running short of critical medical supplies such as oxygen, Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, and other resources to cope with the coronavirus second wave.
While 40 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in 50 mostly high-income countries, Guinea is the sole low-income nation to provide vaccines and to date and the doses have only been administered to 25 people.
Seychelles, which is a high-income country, is the only one on the continent to start a national vaccination campaign, the agency noted.
Raising the alarm on Thursday, during a virtual press the conference facilitated by the APO Group, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, regretted the effects of hoarding of vaccines to the continent’s response efforts against the pandemic, even as the WHO, along with UNICEF and Gavi called for urgent access to safe and effective vaccines on the continent.
“We first, not me first, is the only way to end the pandemic. Vaccine hoarding will only prolong the ordeal and delay Africa’s recovery. It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe.
“Health workers and vulnerable people in Africa need urgent access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines,” Moeti noted.
In his own response, the Managing Director, Country Programmes, GAVI, Thabani Maphosa said COVAX is on track to start delivering vaccine doses and begin ensuring global access to vaccines.
”This massive international undertaking has been made possible thanks to donations work towards dose-sharing deals and deals with manufacturers that have brought us to almost two billion doses secured. We look forward to rollout in the coming weeks.”
According to Mohamed Fall, the UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Director: “UNICEF has put in place a global network of freight forwarders and logistics providers to deliver vaccines as quickly and safely as possible as part of this historic and mammoth operation.
“This invaluable collaboration will ensure that we have enough transport capacity in place for delivering COVID-19 vaccine doses, syringes and safety boxes to the front-line workers who ultimately protect the millions of children who depend on their vital services.”
Case fatality rates exceed the global average
Meanwhile, the case fatality rate in Africa averaging 2.5 per cent has exceeded the global average of 2.2 per cent.
The development is a break from the first wave in the pandemic when death rates on the continent were averagely lower than the rest of the world.
The Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa CDC, Dr John Nkengasong noted on Thursday that Africa has so far recorded close to 3.4 million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 82,000 deaths, as new cases increased by an average of 14 per cent each week over the past month.
South Africa, with over 38,800 deaths, has the highest number of casualties, while Nigeria is 10th with almost 1,500 deaths.
“During the second wave, we are beginning to see that reverse. So I think that is one of the remarkable characteristics of the second wave, which we must fight hard,” Nkengasong said.
No less than 21 African countries had so far recorded death rates higher than 2.2 per cent, Nkengasong noted, even as he worried that the rising cases were stretching health systems.
“That also means you’re overwhelming the ability of nurses, doctors to manage patients. Because of that, there will be inadequate attention and care to patients because we have limited beds, limited supplies.”