Sat | Jan 22, 2022

Alarm grows in Africa as it watches India’s COVID-19 crisis

Published:Saturday | May 1, 2021 | 12:09 AM
In this January 11 photo a patient wearing an oxygen mask is treated in a makeshift emergency unit at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa.
In this January 11 photo a patient wearing an oxygen mask is treated in a makeshift emergency unit at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, South Africa.

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP):

Africa is “watching with total disbelief” as India struggles with a devastating resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the continent’s top public health official said Thursday, as African officials worry about delays in vaccine deliveries caused by India’s crisis.

The African continent, with roughly the same population as India and fragile health systems “must be very, very prepared” since a similar scenario could happen here, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters.

“What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent,” he said, and urged African countries to avoid mass gatherings including political rallies. “We do not have enough healthcare workers, we do not have enough oxygen,” he warned.

Africa’s vaccine supply heavily relies on India, whose Serum Institute is the source of the AstraZeneca vaccines distributed by the global COVAX project to get doses to low-and-middle-income countries. India’s export ban on vaccines “has severely impacted the predictability of the roll-out of vaccination programmes and will continue to do so for the coming weeks and perhaps months”, Nkengasong said.

UNCERTAIN WORLD

“We are living in a world that is extremely uncertain now,” he added.

Just 17 million vaccine doses have been administered across the African continent for a population of some 1.3 billion, according to the Africa CDC.

The situation in India is “very sad to observe,” the World Health Organization’s Africa chief told reporters in a separate briefing. “We are very concerned about the delays that are coming in the availability of vaccines,” Matshidiso Moeti added.

Her WHO colleague, Phionah Atuhebwe, called the delay “quite devastating for everybody” and said most African nations that received their first vaccine doses via COVAX will reach a “gap” in supply while waiting for second doses as early as May or June.

“We call upon countries that have extra doses to do their part,” Atuhebwe said, adding that the WHO is reviewing the Chinese-made Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines this week.

One unexpected COVID-19 vaccine donor is Congo, which Nkengasong said wants to give back some 1.3 million doses so they can be distributed to other African nations since it hasn’t been able to do it at home.

There is “a lot of vaccine hesitancy” in the vast country, Nkengasong said. He didn’t immediately know how many people have received the doses there.

There is a five-week timeline to get the doses administered elsewhere, he said, and Congo is working with COVAX to hand them over. He expressed hope that the doses can reach other people quickly during what he called “an extremely critical time”.