The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging African countries to focus on vaccinating persons described as most at-risk to avoid needless deaths from covid-19.
A statement issued by the WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, notes that West Africa has in the last four weeks recorded its highest number of Covid-19 deaths since the pandemic began, with several countries now grappling with outbreaks of cholera, Ebola Virus Disease and Marburg Virus Disease.
“Covid-19 fatalities in West Africa over the past four weeks increased by 193% from 348 in the previous four weeks to 1018 in the week ending on 15 August.
“Although the case fatality ratio, or the proportion of people diagnosed with the disease who have died, stands at 1.4%—below the continental average of 2.5%—it is higher than the previous two waves in the sub-region, a sign that health systems are feeling the strain of a heavy caseload.
“While new cases in West Africa have dropped this week, they were surging for eight consecutive weeks,” she stated.
Countries are, therefore, been urged to focus vaccination on those who need it the most.
“Moves by some countries globally to introduce booster shots threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Africa. As some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery of vaccine equity.
High-income countries have already, on average, administered more than 103 doses per 100 people, whereas, in Africa, that number stands at 6.
“Failure to vaccinate the most at-risk groups in all countries will result in needless deaths. We say this every week, and it cannot be repeated enough – it will also contribute to conditions where the virus will very likely mutate further and could ultimately delay the global recovery from this pandemic.”
Below is Dr Moeti’s opening statement
Good morning and good afternoon to all the journalists joining us and to everyone watching online. Today, we will provide an update on the COVID-19 situation in Africa and outbreaks of Marburg and Ebola in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire respectively.
I am very pleased to be joined for this conversation by the Honourable Dr Remy Lamah, the Minister of Health of Guinea and by the Honourable Dr Pierre Dimba, the Minister of Health of Cote d’Ivoire. Bienvenue Messieurs le Ministres.
So, first on COVID-19: There have now been more than 7.3 million cases on the African continent and 184,000 people have sadly lost their lives. After several weeks of steep increases, we are now starting to see a levelling off of the third wave on the continent.
However, the situation remains very fragile. More countries are reporting variants of concern, with Alpha now in 44 African countries, Beta in 39, Delta in 30 and Gamma in four. While it took eight months for Alpha to spread to 30 countries, Delta has done so in half that time, only four months, and is now the dominant variant in most countries.
Vaccine coverage remains low, with only 2% of Africans being fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But there’s hope as vaccine shipments pick up pace with the COVAX Facility delivering almost ten million doses to Africa so far in August. That’s nine times what was delivered in the same period in July.
We are hopeful that COVAX shipments will keep ramping-up to reach 20% of Africa’s population by the end of the year. Coupled with deliveries from the African Union and bilateral deals, WHO’s target of vaccinating 30% of people by the end of the year is still in reach.
Yet, just as our efforts seem to be taking off Africa is encountering headwinds. Moves by some countries globally, to introduce booster shots threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Africa. As some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery of vaccine equity.
High-income countries have already, on average, administered more than 103 doses per 100 people, whereas in Africa that number stands at 6.
Failure to vaccinate the most at-risk groups in all countries will result in needless deaths. We say this every week and it cannot be repeated enough – it will also contribute to conditions where the virus will very likely mutate further, and could ultimately delay the global recovery from this pandemic.
On the spread of COVID-19 in Africa, rapid and determined action from governments and people in a number of Southern African countries has led to a drop in cases. This shows that public health measures, and only where absolutely necessary, restrictions, save lives and protect health systems and economies.
Nine out of 23 countries experiencing a resurgence are in West Africa. Guinea for example, is experiencing rising cases. Cote d’Ivoire was added to our list of countries with cases surging last week, and Benin was added this week.
Testing rates have been low in most countries in West Africa, mainly focused on travellers. I want to encourage all countries to urgently reinforce the public health and preventive measures, including testing, to understand where the virus is circulating and to inform action to protect communities.
As WHO, we have assessed that the functionality of health systems in West Africa is 21% lower than in Southern Africa, so we can expect the pressure of COVID-19 to hit these systems harder and faster. To prepare for further increases, capacities to manage cases should be urgently stepped-up.
The outbreaks of viral haemorrhagic fevers, Marburg and Ebola, at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising in a number of West African countries, highlights the multitude of challenges countries are facing in parallel to the pandemic. It also points to the critical importance of sustained investment in preparedness and the resilience of national health systems.
The case of Marburg reported in Guinea, is the first such case to be reported in West Africa. As WHO we have assessed the risk of spread as high at that national level and across the African Region, considering the porous borders and fragile health systems in West Africa. We will hear more about the situation and the strong response Guinea has mounted from Dr Lamah.
On the Ebola outbreak in Cote d’Ivoire – this is the country’s first confirmed case of Ebola since 1994. The patient is a Guinean national, who travelled to Cote d’Ivoire from Guinea and within hours of arriving in Abidjan was admitted to a hospital. She is currently receiving treatment in a hospital. For several years, the government of Cote d’Ivoire, supported by WHO and partners, has worked on reinforcing preparedness capacities, and these investments have been leveraged rapidly to launch the response.
I want to appreciate the remarkable solidarity between neighbouring countries –five thousand Ebola vaccine doses were sent to Cote d’Ivoire by Guinea, which received the doses with support from WHO. Experts have been deployed to support the rollout. Vaccination of high-risk individuals started just 48 hours after the outbreak was declared. The Ebola vaccine is a critical tool in the fight against the virus. The speed with which Cote d’Ivoire has ramped up vaccination is remarkable. Minister Dimba will share more details on the response activities.
In both Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, our WHO representatives and local teams are on the ground leading technical assistance and coordinating partners. In addition, we have so far deployed almost 20 experts to support in all response areas, including testing, contact tracing, community mobilization and treatment, with more experts arriving this weekend.
We are enhancing cross-border surveillance in neighbouring countries and have released an initial one million dollars to kick-off both response operations.
In closing, I would like to appreciate the determined leadership of both Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire in responding to these new outbreaks, while dealing with the concurrent threat of Covid-19.
The African Region faces more infectious disease outbreaks every year than any other region. Major investments by governments and donors are needed to ensure these outbreaks are continuously prevented, detected and contained quickly to safeguard global health security.
So, I look forward very much to our conversation and I thank you once again for having joined us.