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Covid vaccines: ‘85% Africa’s population yet to receive single dose’

By Oluwaseun Sonde

The World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed that 86 member States across all regions have not been able to reach last year’s target of vaccinating 40% of their populations while 34 member States, most of them in Africa, resulting to 85 percent of African population yet to receive a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

WHO Director-General who made this know in his opening remarks at the 150 session of the Executive Board on Monday, said Sunday 23th January marks two years since the declaration of public health emergency of international concern on the highest level of alarm under international law over the spread of COVID-19.

He added that at that time, there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths reported outside China, but two years later, almost 350 million cases have been reported, and more than 5.5 million deaths and the world known that these numbers are an underestimation.

According to him, “On average last week, 100 cases were reported every three seconds, and somebody lost their life to COVID-19 every 12 seconds. Since Omicron was first identified just nine weeks ago, more than 80 million cases have been reported to WHO – more than were reported in the whole of 2020.

“So far, the explosion in cases has not been matched by a surge in deaths, although deaths are increasing in all regions, especially in Africa, the region with the least access to vaccines. It’s true that we will be living with COVID for the foreseeable future.

Ghebreyesus stated that the world need to learn to manage Covid-19 through a sustained and integrated system for acute respiratory diseases, which will provide a platform for preparedness for future pandemics. “But learning to live with COVID cannot mean that we give this virus a free ride.

“It cannot mean that we accept almost 50 thousand deaths a week, from a preventable and treatable disease. It cannot mean that we accept an unacceptable burden on our health systems, when every day, exhausted health workers go once again to the front line. It cannot mean that we gamble on a virus whose evolution we cannot control, nor predict”.

He noted that there are different scenarios for how the pandemic could play out, and how the acute phase could end but it is dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant, or that the world are in the endgame. “On the contrary, globally the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge.

“To change the course of the pandemic, we must change the conditions that are driving it. We recognize that everyone is tired of this pandemic; That people are tired of restrictions on their movement, travel and other freedoms; That economies and businesses are hurting; And that many governments are walking a tightrope, attempting to balance what is effective with what is acceptable to their people”.

The DG further said that each country is in a unique situation, and must chart its way out of the acute phase of the pandemic with a careful, stepwise approach. “It’s difficult, and there are no easy answers, but WHO continues to work nationally, regionally and globally to provide the evidence, the strategies, the tools and the technical and operational support countries need.

“If countries use all of these strategies and tools in a comprehensive way, we can end the acute phase of the pandemic this year, we can end COVID-19 as a global health emergency, and we can do it this year. It means achieving our target to vaccinate 70% of the population of every country, with a focus on the most at-risk groups;

“It means reducing mortality through strong clinical management, beginning with primary health care, and equitable access to diagnostics, oxygen and antivirals at the point of care; It means boosting testing and sequencing rates globally to track the virus closely, and monitor the emergence of new variants;

“It means the ability to calibrate the use of public health and social measures when needed; It means restoring and sustaining essential health services; And it means learning critical lessons and defining new solutions now, not waiting until the pandemic is over.

“We can only do this with engaged and empowered communities, sustained financing, a focus on equity, and research and innovation. Vaccines alone are not the golden ticket out of the pandemic. But there is no path out unless we achieve our shared target of vaccinating 70% of the population of every country by the middle of this year”.

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