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Surge in India’s Covid infections is a warning to Africa, WHO says

Monday May 10 2021
Coronavirus in India.

People wait to refill their medical oxygen cylinders for coronavirus patients under home quarantine at a private refill centre in New Delhi. PHOTO | AFP

By ELIZABETH MERAB

The spike in India’s Covid-19 infections and deaths is a wake-up call for African countries not to let their guard down, the continent’s health bodies have warned.

According to both Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (AfricaCDC) and World Health Organisation, Africa region (WHO-Afro), the continent has to act now, collectively and decisively, to avoid being in a similar situation.

With Africa-bound Covid-19 vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India (SII) delayed for the foreseeable future, slow vaccine rollouts and new variants making inroads, the WHO-Afro warned that the risk of a new wave of infections in Africa remains high.

About 20.2 million of the 37.6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses received in Africa have been administered so far, the AfricaCDC said Thursday.

“This figures corresponds to a coverage rate of 1.14 percent at the continental level, with 0.39 percent of the population having received a full vaccine regimen (up by 0.02 percent points from the previous week). To date, AU member states have used 53.8 percent of the vaccine supply available,” reported Dr John Nkengasong, Director of the continent’s public health agency.

The fear of the continent being overrun should a resurgence similar to that of India occur is because Africa’s health system is weak compared with that of India. As it is, many countries continue to grapple with insufficient numbers of healthcare workers, hospital beds and oxygen supplies. Therefore, if the ongoing Covid-19 surge in the South Asian country was to replicate here, Dr Nkengasong, said it would be even more overwhelming.

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“While we call for vaccine equity Africa must also knuckle down and make the best of what we have. We must get all the doses we have into people’s arms, “said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation (WHO) regional director for Africa. “It’s a race against time and the virus. Given the limited supply we recommend that countries prioritise giving the first dose to as many high-risk people as possible in the shortest amount of time.” The warning comes as the AfricaCDC plans to hold a high level meeting of African Health Ministers to discuss the pandemic situation in the continent. The meeting is set to review the state of the Covid-19 pandemic in Africa and evaluate the implementation of the joint continental strategy, a year after the first cases were reported.

India is currently fighting its highest surge in Covid-19 cases since the pandemic started. With new variants circulating, low vaccination levels, population fatigue in adhering to preventive measures, and easing of restrictions, the conditions are present for a resurgence.

Experts suspect that the surge is driven by a new variant called B.1.617, which has been confirmed in three African countries: a case in Uganda, five under investigation in Kenya, and a case in Morocco, the AfricaCDC noted. The B1.351 strain, first found in South Africa, is spreading in 23 African countries and the B1.1.7 strain, first found in the United Kingdom, has been found in 20 countries.

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