The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on African countries to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination as the squeeze on vaccine shipments eases.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, made the call on Thursday during an online news briefing on COVID-19 in Africa.
She said the new case numbers in Africa fell by 1.7 per cent to nearly 282,000 in the week ending July 18.
She said the continent experienced an unbroken nine-week surge, excluding data from South Africa, which accounted for 37 per cent of these cases.
She added that the current peak was 80 per cent higher than Africa’s previous peak, excluding data from South Africa.
She explained that without the data from South Africa, cases rose in Africa by 18 per cent to over 182 000 in the week ending on July 18.
“Around 60 million doses are set to arrive in the coming weeks from the United States of America, Team Europe, the United Kingdom, purchased doses, and other partners through the COVAX facility.
“Over half a billion doses are expected through COVAX alone this year,” Moeti said.
She said no one should be under any illusion that Africa’s third wave was over.
“This small step forward offers hope and inspiration but must not mask the big picture for Africa. Many countries are still at peak risk and Africa’s third wave surged up faster and higher than ever before.
“The Eid celebrations which we marked this week may also result in a rise in cases. We must all double down on prevention measures to build on these fragile gains,” she said.
Meoti stated further that 21 African countries had seen cases rise by over 20 per cent for at least two weeks running, which was an increase of three countries over the previous week and the highly transmissible Delta variant had been found in 26 African countries.
According to her, the Alpha variant is in 38 countries and Beta is in 35, and that South Africa’s gains remain uncertain as protests have disrupted the country’s response, including disease surveillance and testing.
She said mass gatherings in the country could also trigger another rise in cases.
“A massive influx of doses means that Africa must go all out and speed up the vaccine rollout by five to six times if we are to get all these doses into arms and fully vaccinate the most vulnerable 10 per cent of all Africans by the end of September.
“Nearly 70 per cent of African countries will not reach the 10 per cent vaccination target for all countries by the end of September at the current pace.
“Around 3.5 million to four million doses are administered weekly on the continent, but to meet the September target this must rise to 21 million doses at the very least each week,” she said.
Moeti said Just 20 million Africans, or 1.5 per cent of the continent’s population, had been fully vaccinated so far and just 1.7 per cent of the 3.7 billion doses given globally had been administered in Africa.
She said high-income countries had administered 62 times more doses per person than low-income countries.
According to her, the World Bank estimates that in addition to the 9.5 billion dollars needed to buy enough vaccines to ensure adequate protection from COVID-19, another three billion dollars is required to fund operations.
“To increase uptake, countries must scale up operations, investments on operational costs, and address vaccine confidence.
“Countries need sufficient vaccine sites and health care workers, sufficient vaccine storage, and adequate transport and logistics for distribution,” Moeti said.
She said to boost the uptake of vaccines, African countries must address the fear of side effects, which were major drivers of people’s reluctance to get vaccinated.