The World Health Organisation, (WHO) says to date, Africa has received more than 587 million COVID vaccine doses; 58% through the COVAX Facility; 36% from bilateral deals and 6% through Africa Vaccines Acquisition Trust, (AVAT) of the African Union.
WHO further revealed that in January 2022, 96 million doses were shipped to Africa, more than double the amount of COVID vaccines that came into the continent six months ago, while increasing deliveries have eased shortages and turned the spotlight on the need for countries to rapidly ramp up vaccine rollout.
A statement from the WHO Africa Regional Office in Congo Brazaville, pointed out that although COVID-19 vaccine supplies to Africa have risen significantly, the continent is struggling to expand rollout, with only 11% of the population fully vaccinated.
The need for vaccination rate to be increased over six times the current level to ensure that the African continent meets 70% target set for the middle of 2022, as the WHO, United Nations’ Children Fund (UNICEF), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and partners are launching a new initiative aimed at resolving bottlenecks.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said, “The world has finally heard our calls. Africa is now accessing the vaccines it has demanded for far too long. This is a dose of hope for this year, however, a dependable pipeline must go hand in hand with operational funding to move doses out of depots and into people’s arms. WHO and partners are working with countries to urgently fix operational challenges including supporting health workers to speed up vaccine delivery, save lives and beat back this pandemic.”
It was further stated that six million people are currently been vaccinated on average every week in Africa, but the number needs to increase to 36 million to reach the 70% target agreed globally.
“Although Mauritius and Seychelles have already met the 70% target and seven African countries have vaccinated 40% of their population, vaccination rates on the continent remain low. Twenty-one countries have fully vaccinated less than 10% of their populations, while 16 have vaccinated less than 5% and three have fully vaccinated less than 2%.
“The slow uptake in COVID-19 vaccines in Africa requires global partners and countries to reset their programmes. WHO, UNICEF, IFRC and other partners are scaling up efforts to overcome hurdles, improve coordination and speed up vaccination drives. They have called for support to ensure COVID vaccines are administered as quickly as possible upon arrival to avoid expired vaccines.”
UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern & Southern Africa, Mohamed Fall, said “UNICEF is at the forefront of the largest, most sophisticated ground operation in the history of immunization – and it will take a response of the same magnitude to turn vaccines into vaccinations. Richer countries must not only ensure they are donating vaccine doses that have adequate shelf lives but also contribute funding for in-country operational costs.”
Meanwhile, data reported to WHO from 40 countries finds that there is a US 1.29 billion gap in funding for operational costs but late last year, WHO, in partnership with UNICEF, international and national partners, including ministries of health conducted surge missions to countries in Africa with the aim of understanding challenges and unlocking bottlenecks and based on the mission findings, the partners have launched an initiative to support countries to reach the 70% global target.
“WHO and partners are deploying, technical experts to 20 countries with significant challenges in vaccine deployment to form special support teams for three to six months and in some cases possibly up to a year. Already 50 experts have been deployed. They are working under the leadership of the ministries of health to strengthen partner coordination, logistical and financial planning, including microplanning, surveillance of adverse events following immunization, as well as the management of data on vaccination uptake and COVID vaccine stock.
“Engaging and empowering communities so they follow key public health measures and support vaccination is important. Under the leadership of governments, partners are working with communities to strengthen trust and confidence in vaccination,” the statement read in part.
Furthermore, the IFRC Regional Director for Africa, Mohammed Mukhier, was also quoted as saying that “This year, a lot more needs to be done to gain communities’ trust. When communities are in the driver’s seat, they become vital contributors to finding solutions to the outbreaks of diseases. In South Sudan, community-based Red Cross volunteers tackled the problem of slow vaccine uptake, through improved community trust, and helped prevent vaccine wastage”.
All representatives quoted in the press statement were said to have spoken at the virtual press conference.
Africa is now emerging from its fourth pandemic wave driven by the Omicron variant; COVID cases have declined for the third straight week; over the past week, cases dropped by 15% compared with the week before, while deaths fell slightly by 5%.
Despite the overall decline in deaths in the continent, North Africa reported a 25% rise in weekly fatalities, so far, Africa has recorded 10.8 million cases and over 239 000 deaths cumulatively.
“The omicron variant and its three sub lineages have been reported in 37 countries in Africa – of these the highest number of cases has been the original BA.1 sub lineage with more than 5300 cases in 20 countries. In addition, there have been more than 200 cases of BA.2 of the so-called stealth omicron sub lineage in five countries and 43 cases of BA.3 in three countries.”