September 19, 2021

Covid-19: Why is the epidemic on the rise again in African countries?

He is one of the good students in the fight against Covid-19 in Africa. Rwanda, which had so far managed to contain the epidemic, has faced an explosion of cases for several weeks. To stem the spread of the virus, Kigali and eight other districts are reconfining themselves from Saturday July 17 for at least nine days.

Offices and schools will remain closed, public transport will not operate, while the number of people attending funerals will be limited to 15. Tourist activities are maintained but subject to strict health protocols and a curfew. .

An outbreak of cases in Rwanda which is also observed in several other countries of the continent in recent days. Deaths linked to Covid-19 have experienced ‘an increase of 43%’ in the space of a week in Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday.

‘This is a clear warning sign that hospitals in the worst-affected countries are reaching breaking point,’ said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa. The number of deaths thus rose to 6,273 the week of July 5 to 11, against 4,384 the previous week.

These figures would however be largely underestimated. Experts estimate that the deaths from Covid-19 in Africa could actually be three to four times more.

Too few Africans vaccinated

As in Europe, the outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant partly explains this increase in the number of cases. So far, the variant has been detected in 21 African countries. Most of the new deaths are recorded in Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia.

On a continent facing shortages of oxygen and intensive care beds, low vaccination coverage is pushing up mortality. Today, only 8 million Africans have received the two doses needed for full immunity.

Public mistrust, supply problems and failures in the Covax solidarity system are all obstacles to vaccination in Africa.

Even in Rwanda, one of the first African countries to launch its campaign, the number of people vaccinated is struggling to take off, with only 3% of the population immune.

In South Africa, the country most affected by the pandemic on the continent, the vaccination campaign has come to a halt in recent days. With the riots sparked by the jail of former President Jacob Zuma on July 8, some medical centers have had to close their doors while health workers have been prevented from going to their places of work.

Dry Covax

In the midst of the third wave of the epidemic, Africa is in dire need of vaccines. In DR Congo, authorities said on Wednesday that the country was out of stock for AstraZeneca.

After providing 100 million doses, instead of the 500 million planned in 1isJuly, Covax saw its supply rate drop considerably. The runaway pandemic in India has not helped. The main supplier of Covax, the country blocked vaccine exports at the end of March.

Between the financing problems and the vaccine nationalism of the rich countries, the solidarity mechanism has failed to reduce the divide between the North and the South. One figure shows the extent of these inequalities: of the 3.5 billion injections carried out worldwide, only 1% have benefited Africans.

At the last G7 summit, rich countries did promise a billion doses, but only half are expected to be delivered this year.

However, these supply difficulties appear to have been provisionally resolved this week. Two Chinese manufacturers, Sinopharm and Sinovac, have pledged to immediately deliver 110 million doses. However, doubts still persist in the scientific community about their effectiveness against the Delta variant.

For its part, the United States announced on Friday that it would send 25 million doses to Africa in the coming days. A total of 49 countries will receive Johnson & Johnson, Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. A gesture hailed by the African Union but a drop in the bucket in view of the AU’s ambitions to vaccinate 20% of the continent’s population by the end of the year and then 60% in 2022.