The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, says there are over 3.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases on the African continent.
The UN health agency gave the update on its regional official Twitter account on Friday, January 22, 2021.
WHO stated on its dashboard that there were over 3.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases on the African continent – with more than 2.8 million recoveries and 82,000 deaths cumulatively.
Meanwhile, in a statement posted on its website, the UN health agency said Africa needed timely access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to combat the virus.
It stated that while the development and approval of safe and effective vaccines less than a year after the emergence of COVID-19 is a stunning achievement, Africa is lagging behind.
“Africa is in danger of being left behind as countries in other regions strike bilateral deals, driving up prices.
“As of early this week, 40 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in 50 mostly high-income countries.
“However, in Africa, Guinea is the sole low-income nation to provide vaccines and to date, these have only been administered to 25 people.
“Seychelles, which is a high-income country, is the only one on the continent to start a national vaccination campaign,’’ it said.
The statement quoted Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, as saying, “We first, not me first, is the only way to end the pandemic.
“Vaccine hoarding will only prolong the ordeal and delay Africa’s recovery. It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe.
“Health workers and vulnerable people in Africa need urgent access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.”
According to the statement, the COVAX Facility – which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and WHO – has secured two billion doses of vaccine from five producers, with options for over one billion more doses.
The statement also quoted Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director, Country Programmes, GAVI, as saying, “COVAX is on track to start delivering vaccine doses and begin ensuring global access to vaccines.
“This massive international undertaking has been made possible thanks to donations, work towards dose-sharing deals and deals with manufacturers that have brought us to almost two billion doses secured.
“We look forward to rollout in the coming weeks.
“In Africa, the coalition has committed to vaccinating at least 20 per cent of the population by the end of 2021 by providing a maximum of 600 million doses based on two doses per individual disbursed in phases.”
WHO stated that an initial 30 million doses were expected to start arriving in countries by March with the aim of covering three per cent of the general population.
It stated that healthcare workers and other priority groups would be considered first and then expanding to cover additional vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
“Most of the doses are expected to arrive in the second half of the year. These timelines and quantities could change if candidate vaccines fail to meet regulatory approval or production, delivery and funding face challenges.
“To make sure that vaccines are transported and stored adequately to remain effective, WHO, Gavi, UNICEF and other partners are working with countries to support their readiness to receive vaccines by mapping existing cold chain equipment and storage capacity as well as providing technical support for countries to be ready to receive and manage the vaccines,’’ it said.
According to the WHO vaccine introduction readiness assessment tool, African nations are on average 42 per cent ready for their mass-vaccination campaigns, which is an improvement on the starting point of 33 per cent two months ago.
However, it stated that there was still a long way to go to reach the desired benchmark of 80 per cent.
“As the largest vaccine buyer in the world, procuring more than two billion doses annually for routine immunisation and outbreak response on behalf of nearly 100 countries, UNICEF is coordinating and supporting the procurement, international freight and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines for the COVAX Facility.
“This is the biggest, most sophisticated ground operation in the history of immunisation.
“UNICEF is stockpiling one billion syringes and buying 10 million safety boxes so that used syringes and needles can be disposed in a safe manner by personnel at health facilities, thus preventing the risk of injuries and blood borne diseases,” it stated.
The statement quoted Mohamed Fall, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Director, as saying,“ UNICEF has put in place a global network of freight forwarders.
“It has put in place global network of freight forwarders and logistics providers to deliver vaccines as quickly and safely as possible as part of this historic and mammoth operation.
“This invaluable collaboration will ensure that we have enough transport capacity in place for delivering COVID-19 vaccine doses, syringes and safety boxes to the front-line workers who ultimately protect the millions of children who depend on their vital services.”
According to the statement, all the 54 countries on the continent have expressed interest in the COVAX Facility.
“Eight higher and middle-income countries will self-finance their own participation, while lower-middle income and low-income countries will access the vaccines at no cost through the Facility.
“The vaccines distributed by COVAX will have received WHO Emergency Use Listing authorisation and as such will have undergone stringent validation of their safety and effectiveness.
“However, vaccine nationalism is threatening the COVAX initiative.
“The COVAX initiative has raised six billion US dollars in pledges but needs an additional 2.8 billion US dollars in 2021 and WHO and partners are urging countries and donors to contribute and help end the pandemic globally,’’ it said.
By Cecilia Ologunagba