By Moses Emorinken, Abuja
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the threat of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the African Region as real and rising.
It therefore urged countries to brace up and strengthen their health systems by investing in critical care capacities, which will pay dividends for the COVID-19 response.
It further expressed concern that the gap between COVID-19 vaccinations globally and on the African continent is increasing, despite the best efforts of African countries, because of vaccine inequity.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, made these known during a press briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic and treatment in Africa.
She said: “The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Vaccines are key to staving off a new surge and keeping the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care. Vaccines are a gift that we will keep on giving.
“Nearly 20 African countries have now used more than two-thirds of the doses they have received, and many of these countries are ready, willing and able to rapidly roll out more.
“As we are expecting a surge, it is important to strengthen health systems now to save lives. Public health measures remain important to prevent infections that can later become hospitalisations.
“In the past week, 74,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported – an increase of 9 percent over the previous week. We are seeing rising cases in South Africa and Uganda, and cases have increased abruptly in 8 countries, including Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Nigeria.
“We have seen how COVID-19 can quickly overwhelm health systems that are not equipped to manage a surge in cases, so critical care capacities remain vitally important.”
Moeti added: “Since the start of the pandemic, supplies worth US$123 million have been shipped to African countries through the UN Supply Portal, coordinated by WHO. These include around 3,700 oxygen concentrators, 1,300 patient monitors and 700 ventilators.
“Investing in critical care capacities in African countries now, will pay dividends for the COVID-19 response, along with strengthening health systems to manage major killers like childhood pneumonia.
“Update on COVID-19 vaccine rollout: 31 million doses have been administered in African countries – 7 million Africans have received two doses.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, we are at an average of one COVID-19 vaccine dose per 100 people, compared to a global average of 23, and 62 in high-income countries.
“The gap between COVID-19 vaccinations globally and on the African continent is increasing, despite the best efforts of African countries, because of vaccine inequity. This is a concern for us, and it was strongly expressed by many Member States during the 74th World Health Assembly.
“Thank you President Joe Biden for allocating 5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa as part of the United State’s initial dose sharing initiative. The threat of a third wave is real and rising in Africa — this bold plan is a big step forward for Vaccine Equity.”
Earlier in the week, during a joint press briefing of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) the WHO and UNICEF, on updates on vaccination, the WHO Country Representative, Dr Kazadi Mulombo, stated: “We need to be aware that on the African continent, over the past week, we have observed a 20 percent increase in the number of new cases for covid-19.
“While it is still early to talk about a third wave, there is already a signal for what will happen if we let down our guards. Until we can cover the proportion we anticipated to cover for vaccination, we need to continue to observe non-pharmaceutical interventions alongside vaccination.”