Johannesburg — Africa is a few months away from receiving the much-anticipated Covid-19 vaccines approved by the World Health Organization, according to officials working towards getting doses for the continent.
“Africa is facing a second wave of Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 3.3 million cases and 81,000 lives… sadly lost,” according to Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa.
“The first epidemic peaked in July, was surpassed in December and cases are continuing to accelerate at a significantly faster pace,” she added.
“This second wave is centered mainly in Southern Africa but we’ve also seen such increases in countries in other sub-regions. We are also very much aware of a new variant of the virus that was discovered in South Africa and is circulating in several other countries. We are following closely the evidence that suggests that it is more transmissible but up to now doesn’t seem to be more virulent. It’s also very important to know how it might be preventable by vaccines or not.”
Moeti said vaccine hoarding by countries will prolong the pandemic ordeal and delay recovery not only in Africa but also for the whole world. She added that it will be deeply unjust if the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk populations in wealthier countries are made safe.
“Only through global solidarity will we end this pandemic. The Covax facility which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and WHO is laying the ground work for equitable access to the vaccines,” Moeti said.
“In Africa Covax is targeting the phased delivery of 600 million doses by the end of 2021. An initial 30 million doses are expected to start arriving in countries by March and these are intended to prioritise healthcare workers and other high priority groups, then expanding to cover additional vulnerable groups.”.
Moeti has said that while the Covid-19 vaccines are a game changer, it will take at least until the end of this year and possibly longer to roll them out widely for African populations and communities. It’s very important, WHO says, that people continue to live the Covid-19 new-normal – everyone needs to continue with personal preventive actions: wearing masks, physical distancing, hand hygiene along with sustained strong public health initiatives to find, test, isolate and care for cases and to trace and isolate their contacts.
Thabani Maphosa, managing director of country programmes for Gavi, said the group’s goal is to deliver 2 billion doses of safe and effective vaccines in 2021, including 1.3 billion to 92 lower- and middle-income countries which are called Gavi Covax Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) countries.
“We remember the period of HIV/Aids, when Africa was left behind and this time I think the perspective is that never again will Africa need to be left behind too far,” said Maphosa.
“The good thing about the Covax Facility is that it is just the beginning – it is a programme that runs multiple years. Globally we have secured access to do 2 billion doses, and we have raised U.S. $6 billion to fund procurement, readiness and delivery of doses.
“If we are successful in our fundraising we could have access to even more doses, bringing the total available to probably 1,785 billion doses for AMC countries or 27 percent of their populations. This may not happen overnight but… readiness by countries is something that we have invested in. When the vaccines arrive, we do not want to have an excuse of countries not being able to roll out,” according to Maphosa.
Asked how African countries can use their experience with other pandemics to help handle Covid-19, Mohamed Fall, Unicef Eastern and Southern Africa regional director, said that Africa throughout history has been struggling with outbreaks, most recently Ebola in West Africa and in different parts of DR Congo.
“We’ve seen how with the support of WHO and all the partners, governments managed to step up the efforts to control and address properly those diseases. These are the elements that have prepared Africa to respond to Covid-19. Immunisation is something that we are used to in this part of the world. We know how to mobilize community religious leaders and civil society to engage in addressing rumours around vaccines”, according to Fall.
The COVAX initiative has reportedly raised U.S. $6 billion in pledges but needs an additional $2.8 billion in 2021. WHO and its partners are urging countries and donors to contribute and help end the pandemic globally.