COVID-19: Third wave looms in Africa, WHO raises alarm

From Fred Ezeh, Abuja

World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that Africa may experience third wave of COVID-19 because of certain actions being taken the people and the government.

WHO was particularly concerned that 47 of Africa’s 54 countries (nearly 90%) are set to miss the September target of vaccinating 10 per cent of its people, because vaccines are increasingly getting scarce while confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa are rising for the third week running.

WHO said the situation can only change for better if Africa is provided with 225 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines. It said that COVID-19 cases in Africa are nearing five million as numbers are rising week-on-week, and increased by nearly 20 per cent to over 88, 000 in the week ending 6th June.

WHO added that the pandemic is trending upwards in 10 African countries, with four nations recording a spike in new cases of over 30 per cent in the past seven days, compared to previous week, and 72 per cent of the new cases were reported in Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia and over half were recorded in nine southern African countries.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, in a statement released in Abuja, on Thursday, said the situation calls for concerted efforts from all community and political leaders to change the trajectory.

She said: “As we close in on 5 million cases and a third wave in Africa looms, many of our most vulnerable people remain dangerously exposed to COVID-19. Vaccines have been proven to prevent cases and deaths. So, countries that can, must urgently share COVID-19 vaccines. It’s do or die on dose sharing for Africa.

“At 32 million doses, Africa accounts for under one per cent of the over 2.1 billion doses administered globally. Just two per cent of the continent’s nearly 1.3 billion people have received one dose and only 9.4 million Africans are fully vaccinated.”

She, however, confirmed that the United States President, Joe Biden’s, has promised to donate half a billion Pfizer vaccines to 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries. This, she said, comes as we see other countries such as France making tangible deliveries via the COVAX Facility.

“The tide is starting to turn. We are now seeing wealthy nations beginning to turn promises into action,” said Dr. Moeti.

She said that, while more vaccines are vital, some African countries must ramp up actions to swiftly roll out the vaccines they have, adding that while 14 African countries have used from 80 per cent to 100 per cent of the doses they received through the COVAX Facility, 20 countries have used less than 50 per cent of the doses received. And 12 countries have more than 10 per cent of their AstraZeneca doses at risk of expiring by the end of August.

“We need to ensure that the vaccines we have are not wasted because every dose is precious. Countries that are lagging behind in their rollout need to step up vaccination efforts. Several African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire and Niger, are seeing more success by adjusting their vaccine rollout strategies. We recommend spreading vaccinations beyond large cities into rural areas, prioritizing vaccines that are close to expiring, tackling logistical and financial hurdles and working to boost public demand for vaccines.

“Attitudes towards vaccines and acceptance of vaccination varies across countries and communities. Confidence in vaccines in Africa ranges from just 38 per cent in Cameroon to 86 per cent in Guinea. On average, West and Central Africa has the lowest vaccine confidence at around 60 per cent.

“To combat mis-and-disinformation around vaccines, WHO and partners set up the Africa Infodemic Response Alliance (AIRA), which leverages the reach and insights from a unique network of 14 organizations and pools resources to combat misinformation. Viral Facts Africa, the public face of the alliance, also created over 150 videos and social media posts to counter misinformation, and they have been disseminated on almost 60 social media channels across the region and gained more than 100 million views,” Dr. Moeti said.