Fewer than 1 per cent of people fully vaccinated as African COVID-19 cases surge

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Nairobi: COVID-19 cases are surging across Africa as health workers warn that a third wave is now taking hold on the continent.

Cases have risen by more than 20 per cent week-on-week in nearly two dozen African countries, with vaccines yet to halt the spread as they are starting to do in wealthier regions. Just 0.79 per cent of people on the continent are fully vaccinated, senior health officials said on Thursday (local time).

A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the Orange Farm Clinic near Johannesburg in South Africa.Credit:AP

“Africa is in the midst of a full-blown third wave … We’ve seen in India and elsewhere how quickly COVID-19 can rebound and overwhelm health systems,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

New cases are up nearly 30 per cent in the past week and deaths are up by 15 per cent, she said, with five countries – South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia, Uganda and Namibia – accounting for 76 per cent of the new cases.

The continent of 1.3 billion people has not yet been hit by an emergency on the scale of that seen in India, but officials – including Moeti – continue to warn that it’s only a matter of time.

African nations lack sufficient numbers of hospital beds and oxygen supplies, and would be even more overwhelmed than India if cases surged in a similar way, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned in April.

The intensive care unit of the hospital in Machakos, Kenya. Africa, whose 1.3 billion people account for 18 per cent of the global population, has received less than 2 per cent of all vaccine doses administered globally. Credit:AP

Africa has reported more than 5 million COVID-19 cases, representing 2.9 per cent of total cases globally, according to the Africa CDC.

The Africa CDC chief John Nkengasong said that despite rising cases numbers, progress on vaccination campaigns was generally slow.

Four African countries have not even started vaccinations; only on Thursday did the government in Tanzania agree to join the COVAX global vaccine-sharing facility.

This was the latest sign of the country’s change of tack following the death of its COVID-sceptic president in March.

The aim of COVAX is to help poorer countries vaccinate their people.

Both Moeti and Nkengasong stressed that even African nations carrying out vaccinations at a relatively good pace were running out of supplies.

Five African countries – Sao Tome and Principe, Morocco, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Libya – have used 90 per cent or more of their vaccine stocks, according to WHO.

Nkengasong welcomed the G7’s pledge of 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, but said the announcement should be put in the context: “The one billion doses are not here now. We are hoping they will be here soon.”


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