The calamitous COVID-19 outbreak in India is a wake-up call for Africa that its governments and citizens must not let their guard down, the African Union (AU) disease control agency warned .
African countries typically do not have sufficient numbers of healthcare workers, hospital beds or oxygen supplies – and the continent of 1.3 billion would be even more overwhelmed than India if cases increased similarly, said John Nkengasong, head of the African Centers for the Disease. Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
“We are watching in complete disbelief … What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent,” he told reporters on Thursday.
With 1.35 billion people, India has a population size similar to that of the African continent, but Africa has weaker health systems and, unlike India, does not manufacture significant amounts of drugs or vaccines, he said.
Nkengasong urged Africans to wear masks and avoid large gatherings, warning: “We cannot and must not meet again. [India’s] scenario due to the very fragile nature of our health systems. “
He said all political and religious gatherings and parties should be banned for now because they “give the virus an opportunity to spread.”
The AU will convene a meeting with all African health ministers on May 8, Nkengasong said, to “put everyone on alert.”
Delays in vaccine deployment
Adhering to public health guidelines is critical in Africa at the moment, as the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines on the continent has been hampered by the crisis in India, Nkengasong said.
Some 17 million doses of the vaccine have been administered across the African continent, according to the African CDC. The countries that administered the most jabs are Morocco, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya.
The bulk of vaccines delivered to Africa so far through the COVID-19 Global Vaccine Access Mechanism (COVAX) have been AstraZeneca injections made by the Serum Institute of India. India suspended its shot exports in March to cope with rising domestic demand.
It is still unclear when exports will resume, Nkengasong said Thursday, warning that the situation in India could impact the predictability of vaccine deployment in Africa “for the weeks and possibly months to come.”
Only 43 million tests for the coronavirus have been carried out on the African continent since the start of the pandemic, the head of the African CDC said, with a 26% drop in new tests carried out last week.
Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Africa Officer, also warned that African countries must step up key public health measures to prevent India’s scenario from happening there. -low.
The coronavirus testing rate has dropped in “many countries,” she said, and mentioned seeing data from an African country in which the proportion of people not wearing face masks has risen to nearly by 80%.
“We are very concerned about the delays that are happening in the availability of vaccines,” added Moeti.
Her WHO colleague Phionah Atuhebwe called the vaccine roll-out delays “devastating enough for everyone” and said most African countries that received their first doses of vaccine via COVAX will run into a “deficit” supply while waiting for the second doses in May or June.
Atuhebwe also said Africa could benefit from additional supplies if two vaccines made in China get WHO approval next week.
“If we have more vaccines that have been approved for WHO prequalification, we know that more of these applicants can enter our continent without further problem,” Atuhebwe said in a weekly online briefing.
The number of coronavirus cases in Africa has exceeded 4.5 million – 3.1% of total infections worldwide, including 4 million recoveries and 121,000 related deaths.
According to data from the African CDC, the continent recorded nearly 76,000 new COVID-19 infections from April 19 to 25, an 8% drop from the previous week.
India reported more than 379,000 new cases of COVID-19 and 3,645 new deaths on Thursday alone. This is the highest number of deaths reported in a single day in the second most populous country in the world since the start of the pandemic.