The number of COVID-19 infections in Africa exceeded 9 million on Monday as more countries on the continent continue to report cases of the Omicron variant. Data published by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed the continent had also recorded 225,890 virus-related fatalities, with leading health experts urging expanded vaccination in the continent to avert losses of life.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said on Friday evidence from South Africa shows while hospitalizations have increased by almost 70 percent in the past seven days, Intensive Care Unit bed occupancy rates remain low at 7.5 percent.
She added just 14 percent of hospitalized patients in South Africa are reported to have needed supplemental oxygen, and deaths have remained low.
“Africa may not reach the 70 percent vaccination coverage target until August 2024”, she said. Just six countries have hit the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40 percent of their citizens, with only 20 managing to achieve 10 percent coverage, she said.
“I cannot stress strongly enough that vaccination is our best defense against the COVID-19 pandemic. We are at a pivotal moment, and complacency is our enemy. Africa is seeing more consistent delivery of vaccine doses, and we can still save many lives if we urgently accelerate the pace of vaccination,” she added.
African countries have rolled out mass vaccination drives to contain further spread of the virus. The vaccinations have been picking up in recent months, having initially moved very slowly due to a slow arrival of the life-saving doses.
Southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by the northern and eastern parts of the continent, while Central Africa is the least affected region, according to the Africa CDC.
“In real terms, if African countries get the doses and support necessary to vaccinate 70 percent of their populations as is the case for many wealthy countries, we could avert tens of thousands of deaths from COVID-19 in 2022,” Moeti said.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, in a press conference on Friday said Africa must work urgently toward equitable access to safe and effective vaccines on the continent.
“As vaccine supply increases in many countries, efforts to identify and address barriers to getting shots into arms are critical. Without immediate, coordinated support to address these bottlenecks, the pace of vaccination will remain slow, in spite of the great demand for COVID-19 vaccination,” he said.
According to Moeti, WHO Africa’s COVID-19 strategy going forward into 2022 continues to focus on boosting vaccine coverage. It will also concentrate on increasing surveillance to improve detection and to track new variants of concern.