Namibia reported a record high of 2,547 new COVID cases on Thursday, as health minister Kalumbi Shangula appealed for more oxygen supplies and nurses. South Africa saw 18,762 new cases as the government began deploying its COVID surge team.
Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya – they’re all seeing impacts from a trending wave of COVID infections that World Health Organization officials described Friday as ominous. The main reason, they say, is limited vaccine access.
“You can’t deliver what you don’t have and the situation right now is dire,” said Bruce Aylward, a senior advisor to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Look at the situation in Africa, 50 percent increase week on week, five weeks in a row now of cases, multiple variants of concern there.”
Africa remains well behind the global average for vaccines, according to Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Nkengasong and colleague Sofonias Tessema, writing for Nature Reviews Immunology on Thursday, said the average vaccination rate across the continent by May was 2.5 percent.
There are 49 African nations rolling out COVID vaccine programs and more than 28 million doses have been administered, but that’s just 20 per 1,000 people, they said. The global average is 227 doses per 1,000.
Only the comparatively wealthy Seychelles – the most vaccinated African nation – has vaccinated 66 percent of its population, while six African nations have zero vaccinations and 30 of them stand at less than one percent.
The highly transmissible and rapidly spreading delta variant, first identified in India, is now confirmed in 85 countries, Tedros said. It’s a tremendous risk for Africa’s unvaccinated populations amid surging case counts.
“It’s becoming so dangerous and the difference now is between having the vaccine and not having the vaccine,” Tedros added. “The difference is between the haves and the have-nots.”