Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO Photo: WHO.Int

COVID-19: WHO advocates equity in vaccine access, reveals 10 African countries yet to receive doses

*The World Health Organisation discloses that critical proportions of populations targeted in the initial phase of the vaccination campaign in Africa may remain unvaccinated for months to come due to global supply chain constraints

Gbenga Kayode | ConsumerConnect

In view of the comparatively low access to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccines by several millions of people on the Black continent, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has advocated that Africa urgently needs more virus vaccine supplies as deliveries begin to slow down, while initial batches are practically exhausted in some countries.

The global health body in a recent post on its official Web noted although COVAX deliveries have enabled many African countries to roll out vaccinations against Coronavirus.

WHO, nonetheless, said still critical proportions of the populations targeted in the initial phase of the vaccination campaign on the continent may remain unvaccinated for months to come due to global supply chain constraints.

Africa has so far administered 7.7 million vaccine doses mainly to high-risk population groups as of March 25, 2021, according to the organisation.

It stated that 44 African countries have received vaccines through the COVAX Facility or through donations and bilateral agreements, and 32 of them have begun vaccinations. The health body stressed that the COVAX Facility has supplied nearly 16 million doses to 28 countries since launching deliveries to the African continent February 24.

Countries have made significant progress in reaching high-risk populations targeted in the initial phase of the rollout, including health workers, elderly people, and people with conditions, such as diabetes, which make them particularly vulnerable.

WHO disclosed Ghana has administered over 470 000 doses, while Rwanda has delivered 345 000 doses. In Angola, health workers account for more than half of those vaccinated.

It further explained that due to the current vaccine supply constraints, critical proportions of the populations targeted in the initial phase of the vaccination campaign may remain unvaccinated for many months.

In 10 African countries, vaccines have not yet arrived, said WHO.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “A slowdown in vaccine supply could prolong the painful journey to end this pandemic for millions of people in Africa.

“While some high-income countries are seeking to vaccinate their entire populations, many in Africa are struggling to sufficiently cover even their high-risk groups.

Acquiring COVID-19 vaccines must not be a competition. Fair access will benefit all and not just some of us.”

According to the body, most African countries are participating actively in the COVAX Facility.

The platform – co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and WHO in partnership with UNICEF – aims to deliver enough vaccine doses to immunise at least 20 percent of Africa’s population in 2021.

However, COVID-19 vaccine demand is placing an enormous strain on the global manufacturing system which has an annual capacity of 3–5 billion vaccine doses.

Up to 14 billion COVID-19 vaccines may be needed globally. To support manufacturers, WHO is urging greater global collaboration on supply chain issues, ensuring that manufacturers with excess supply can be linked to companies that have fill-and-finish capacity.

The COVAX Facility is exploring ways of dose-sharing by high income countries that have surplus stocks to encourage the release of these vaccines even before countries finish vaccinating their own people.

While it is encouraging that high-income countries have promised to do this these, commitments now need concrete action, said the WHO.

It is urging efforts to be made towards equitable vaccine distribution, including strengthening local production in Africa to meet demand, promote technology transfer and reduce intellectual property barriers.

The Organisation as well encourages collaboration with the private sector to help in securing and delivering vaccines, such as the initiative by South African telecom firm MTN that has delivered 723 000 vaccines to nine African countries, including 100, 000 doses to Nigeria.

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