Covid-19: There is 'potential for a surge' in Africa, warns WHO

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Dr Matshidiso Moeti. Picture: Twitter
Dr Matshidiso Moeti. Picture: Twitter
  • The WHO warned about a resurgence of Covid-19 cases on the African continent.
  • Africa has only administered one percent of the worldwide vaccines. 
  • Covax has a 140 million vaccine shortfall. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that, with increasing cases on the continent, the humanitarian disaster happening in India may soon occur in Africa.

The WHO regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said it was worrying that Covid-19 cases were increasing in 10 countries on the continent, including South Africa. 

"We have a potential for a surge, with South Africa seeing over 2 000 new cases overnight. We are worried about the southern African winter that is about to start, and that might lead to a third wave."

India is currently fighting its highest surge in Covid-19 cases since the pandemic started. The country also detected a new variant - the B.1.617 - as a driver for the high number of cases. 

The B.1.617 has been confirmed in two African countries - Uganda and Kenya. 

Moeti said the WHO was worried about the variant, but added that even countries without a confirmed case of the B.1.617, are seeing an uptick in numbers. 

WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said:

We have to do everything possible to prevent an upwards spike. We are seeing increases in places where this variant isn't circulating. We need to be careful that we don't only fear the variant first identified in India. We would like to prevent a resurgence and third waves in all countries.

She said some of the factors leading to an increase in cases include fatigue and people not following non-pharmaceutical interventions. 

Nsenga Ngoy, the WHO's programme manager for emergency response, warned that, if the same crisis now seen in India were to happen in Africa, it would be devastating. 

"We are urging countries to reassess their intensive care units. If there is a gap in preparedness in terms of ICU, the results will be devastating."

Vaccination lagging 

Moeti said it was worrying that the continent had administered only one percent of the worldwide Covid-19 vaccines. 

"We need to get the available vaccines into people's arms." 

Thabani Maphosa, Gavi's managing director of country programmes, said Covax facilities had delivered over 18 million vaccines to 41 countries on the continent. 

Maphosa said:

Our system is working, but not fast enough due to the devastating wave that our brothers and sisters in India are experiencing. Vaccines are not coming as fast as we wanted it to.

The Covax rollout stalled when the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures AstraZeneca, stopped exports to deal with local supply when their cases started increasing. This led to Covax having a 140 million vaccine shortfall. 

Maphosa said they were negotiating with other countries to donate excess vaccines to Covax. 

Moeti said countries in possession of AstraZeneca that will expire soon, should not discard it. The AstraZeneca vaccine's expiry dates have been extended by three months. 

"These are newly manufactured vaccines. The data in terms of efficacy and how long it lasts, and how it triggers the immune response, is being gathered as we go along. We are advising countries to use it as quickly as possible."

Once it reaches the expiry date, countries should store the vaccine.

"Store it, and [do] not throw it away. We need every single dose we can get."

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