“What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent,” urged the head of the Africa CDC. With vaccine supplies hampered, officials worry an India-like crisis could hit Africa’s health systems.
Health officials in Africa urged governments and the public on Thursday to take action in order to avoid a devastating public health crisis like the one unfolding in India.
As India battles an explosive rise in new cases and deaths — while contending with oxygen and medicine shortages — experts fear that the fragile health systems in Africa could collapse should a similar surge occur.
What did officials say?
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the continent’s disease control body, said it was “watching in total disbelief” at the crisis in India.
“What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent,” John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa CDC, told a press conference.
He called on officials and the public “act now” to prevent a similar situation, warning against large gatherings such as political rallies.
“We do not have enough health care workers, we do not have enough oxygen,” Nkengasong said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also warned on Thursday that the situation in Africa could soon worsen.
In nearly half the countries on the African continent, there’s a high risk that the coronavirus could quickly spread and lead to a wave of new infections, WHO regional director Matshidiso Moeti said.
On May 8, the African Union will meet for an emergency meeting with the health ministers of its 55-member states to discuss possible next steps.
How is the crisis in India impacting Africa?
Besides warnings of a similar health crisis erupting, the spike in India has had a direct impact on efforts to battle the pandemic in Africa.
India’s Serum Institute is the main source of coronavirus vaccines that are being distributed under the international COVAX program to get shots to low-income countries.
As the situation in India has worsened, the government implemented an export ban on vaccines to address their domestic needs.
Those curbs now mean even fewer doses for African countries — delaying vaccination campaigns for weeks “and perhaps months,” said Nkengasong.
What can be done?
In addition to warning against mass gatherings, experts have urged the public go to back to the basics in following health guidelines — and above all, wear face masks.
“Masks work. They are the only ‘vaccines’ we have,” said Nkengasong.
The WHO’s Moeti also urged for countries to step up testing, which dropped off across the continent by 26% in the past week.
What is the pandemic situation in Africa?
Similar to India, numerous African countries implemented strict measures early on in the pandemic to curb the spread of the virus.
The continent has so far been largely spared the devastating situations seen in other countries, accounting for 3.1% of global cases and around 4% of global deaths.
Concerns have arisen about a false sense of security setting in that could prove fatal if more contagious variants were to spread.
So far, only 17 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered on the continent, with a total population of around 1.3 billion.
Several countries are also contending with high levels of vaccine skepticism.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the government made the decision to return over 1 million vaccine doses since it hasn’t been able to distribute them.
Officials are working to redistribute the doses to other African countries before they expire.