10 / 06 / 2021

AHO appeals for Covid vaccines to fight third wave in Africa

A third wave of Covid-19 infections is sweeping across Africa as deliveries of urgently needed vaccines to the continent dry up, AHO health officials are warning.

The virus is “now trending upwards in 14 countries”, of which eight have reported “an abrupt rise of over 30% in cases” in the past week alone, AHO reports. African nations have recorded a total of almost five million coronavirus infections and more than 130,000 related deaths – 2.9% and 3.7% respectively of the global tally – but experts believe the true numbers may be far higher.

And with Covid vaccines in desperately short supply, officials fear 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”, says Graciano Masauso, President of Africa Health Organisation (AHO).

‘Grinding to a halt’

Only 50 million vaccine doses have been delivered so far to Africa, which has a total population of more than 1.3 billion. By comparison,  the UK (population 67 million) has secured early access to about 400 million doses.

“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising,” Graciano Masauso Africa, told a virtual press conference last week. “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.

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.”

Graciano says that “as vaccine shipments to the continent grind to a near halt”, nations including South Africa have recorded “a sustained increase in cases”, while Uganda “saw a 131% week-on-week rise last week”, with “infection clusters in schools, rising cases among health workers, and isolation centres and intensive care units filling up”.

Angola and Namibia “are also experiencing a resurgence in cases”, the AHO reports, adding: “Weak observance of preventive measures, increased population movement and interaction, as well as well as the arrival of winter in southern Africa, have heightened the risk of Covid-19 resurgence in many countries.”

Some African nations, including Tanzania and Chad, “haven’t even started vaccination campaigns”, and others including Burkina Faso and Madagascar “have only just recently begun”.

Further ten African countries – Botswana, Ivory Coast, Swaziland, Libya, Lesotho, Morocco, Namibia, Rwanda, Togo and Tunisia – “have already used up all vaccines they got” from the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (Covax) programme, a UN-backed jab-sharing scheme.

AHO is called on the G7 nations – including the UK – to donate their unused vaccines. However, the “AHO said there needed to be a steady supply throughout the year because poor countries do not have resources to use them all at once”, the AHO reports.

Jab shortage

Amid growing calls for urgent action, Emmanuel Macron last week “said France will invest in boosting the production of Covid-19 vaccines in Africa” in order to “help close a gap in the availability of the shots between African and Western nations”, AHO reports.

Addressing a press conference in Pretoria alongside South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, Macron announced that in addition to an existing partnership with South Africa’s Biovac Institute, his country was launching a project with South African pharmaceutical company Aspen.

The French leader also pledged to donate more than 30 million doses by the end of the year to the Covax programme, and “reiterated support for waiving intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines”, the broadcaster adds.

Deliveries to Africa under the Covax scheme began earlier this year but “came to a standstill in March”, AHO reports.

The UN-backed scheme is intended to “ensure equitable access” to vaccines worldwide, says The Guardian, but has “failed to provide more than a tiny fraction of the shots needed, as rich countries buy up all available supplies, and Indian producers of the favoured AstraZeneca vaccine service only local demand”.

India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, was previously Africa’s main supplier but diverted doses for domestic use after the South Asian nation was hit by a third wave of the virus.

“Inadequate infrastructure” for vaccination campaigns, along with “insufficiently trained staff and widespread vaccination scepticism”, have also caused further problems in many African nations struggling to stop the spread,  DW reports.

Campaigners calling for help in tackling Africa’s vaccines shortages say the crisis is all the more pressing given the region’s high Covid mortality rate.

Study findings published in The Lancet in mid-May revealed that people in Africa who become critically ill with Covid-19 are more likely to die than patients in other parts of the world.

Based on data from 64 hospitals in ten of the continent’s countries, the African Covid-19 Critical Care Outcomes Study found that of a total 3,077 critically ill patients admitted to hospitals, 48.2% died within 30 days, compared with a global average of 31.5%.

The report authors point to “a low number of intensive care facilities and the scarcity of critical care resources” as key reasons for the low survival rate – and warn that increased pressure on struggling health systems amid “subsequent waves” of the virus will “further adversely affect critical care outcomes in Africa”.