African countries must urgently boost critical care capacity to prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed due to COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday.
At a virtual press briefing, Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said the gap between COVID-19 vaccinations globally and on the African continent is increasing because of vaccine inequity.
“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Our priority is clear – it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19,” Moeti said.
“While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups.”
She urged countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care.
Sub-Saharan Africa is at an average of one COVID-19 vaccine dose per 100 people, compared to a global average of 23, and 62 in high-income countries, according to Moeti.
The coronavirus pandemic is trending upwards in 14 countries and in the past week alone eight countries witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30% in cases, according to the WHO.
There are over 4.8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases on the African continent, with more than 4.3 million recoveries and 130,000 deaths.
Africa, with a population of 1.3 billion, has only administered 33.16 million vaccine doses, according to Our World in Data, a tracking website. The total number of shots given worldwide is 2.02 billion.
Vaccinations began in December 2020 but inequity in their access has been criticized by the WHO and others time and again. Rich countries have been buying jabs in excess, leaving less for others.
The WHO is leading COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing program, but it remains underfunded and has faced supply shortages.