Africa struggling with surge in COVID-19 cases, vaccine shortage

By James Tasamba

KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) – The number of daily new COVID-19 cases has more than tripled in recent weeks in many parts of Africa due to the emergence of the Delta variant first detected in India, though some infectious disease experts say the situation will not go out of hand.

In its latest report on the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has shown that a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is on the rise across Africa.

It indicated Africa was recording a 20% week-on-week rise in the number of cases.

Besides new variants, the spike in cases has been attributed to complacency on health protocols and increased cross-border movements.

– Nations on alert

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Vedaste Ndahindwa, an epidemiologist working for the WHO in Rwanda, said the spread of the virus is to be contained based on the measures taken and lessons learned from the previous waves.

“Several measures are being implemented to slow down the further spread of the virus so that the situation comes back to normal," he said.

"Different countries have developed their capacities in case management, treatment, and diagnostic testing,” Ndahindwa said, citing Kenya in East Africa, where he said the transmission rate of the virus has been slowed down.

“We have learned a lot from the first wave of the coronavirus and many people know how it spreads as well as the health protocols, including social distancing, wearing face masks, and hand hygiene.”

Ndahindwa underlined that African health officials are trying to save the continent from devastation similar to that India has faced recently.

– Worst hit nations

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia, and Egypt have recorded the most cases on the continent, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

The beginning of winter raised the risk of infection in South Africa, doubling the numbers in a short time, according to the WHO.

Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, and Uganda have reported their highest numbers of weekly cases since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Uganda has re-imposed a 42-day lockdown, where all schools and higher education institutions were shut down.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, President Felix Tshisekedi warned of a “fatal third wave,” urging people to be cautious, with gatherings limited to 20 people.

Rwanda and Liberia have also been recording surges in new infections.

A surge in new cases in Liberia forced the United Arab Emirates to place a travel ban on people traveling from there, while Rwanda has limited movement to and from the capital Kigali for the next two weeks.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 5.2 million as of June 22, according to figures from the Africa CDC.

The death toll from the pandemic stood at 138,000, while 4.6 million patients across the continent had recovered from the disease.

“The steep increase in Africa is especially concerning because it is the region with the least access to vaccines, diagnostics, and oxygen,” Tedros Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, told reporters recently.

Rwandan Health Minister Daniel Ngamije said his country has the capacity to beat off the latest wave based on the previous experience.

The East African country on Tuesday recorded 861 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily increase since the outbreak, bringing the tally to 32,296 infections, along with a death toll of 392.

– Vaccine hoarding

Across Africa, there is a shortage of vaccines due to rampant hoarding by wealthy nations, a problem compounded by India’s health crisis that has affected vaccine supply to many developing countries.

This is partly responsible for slowing down progress towards containing the pandemic on the continent, as many countries are even unable to follow up with second doses for high risk groups, according to experts.

Vaccine shipments to African nations have halted.

Not even 1% of the African population has received both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Africa CDC.

The WHO has expressed fears that vaccination targets could be missed in most African countries, after predicting that nine out of 10 will not manage to inoculate 10% of their populations by September.

There is reportedly a shortage of some 225 million vaccine doses.

Speaking at a forum in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Samuel Kinyanjui, the country director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said constructive engagement between African governments and the pharmaceutical industry in the rich world is required to facilitate the acquisition of vaccine doses at a subsidized cost.

Kinyanjui called on high-income countries to share excess stockpiles, waive patents, and support the establishment of a robust COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing infrastructure in Africa.

The possibility of producing vaccines in selected African countries is also under consideration.

Discussions are underway, which could see Rwanda, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa become COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing hubs — with the partnership of the EU.

This will ease the over-centralization of vaccine production capacity which impedes equitable access.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame stressed that Africa has to be an equal partner with the rest of the world in terms of manufacturing vaccines instead of waiting for them from other places.

– Only 0.79% of population on continent fully vaccinated

The African continent had administered 42.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses as of June 14, while only 0.79% of the population had been fully vaccinated, figures from Africa CDC indicated.

The G7 nations recently announced plans to provide more than 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to developing countries by the end of 2022.

“We believe that if we get the chance to access enough vaccines that will definitely help in stopping the spread of the virus,” said Ndahindwa, the WHO epidemiologist in Rwanda.

Ndahindwa believes though there is a lot of pressure and physical and mental fatigue due to the lockdowns, there is a need for strict measures to contain the pandemic.