COVID-19: Vaccination of African medics wanting

COVID-19: Vaccination of African medics wanting
WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti (photo credit: courtesy)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said only 27 per cent, or one in four African health workers, have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

WHO said this has left the majority of the workforce on the frontline exposed to the pandemic.

WHO preliminary analysis of the data collected from 25 countries in Africa, in March 2021, shows that 1.3 million health workers were fully vaccinated, with just six countries reaching more than 90 per cent.

Nine countries have fully vaccinated, accounting for less than 40 per cent. 

In sharp contrast, a recent WHO global study of 22 mostly high-income countries reported that over 80 per cent of their healthcare workers are fully vaccinated.

 WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the majority of Africa’s health workers are still missing out on vaccines and remain dangerously exposed to severe COVID-19 infection.

Time to respond

“Unless our doctors, nurses, and other frontline workers get full protection, we risk a blowback in the efforts to curb this disease. We must ensure our health facilities are safe working environments, ” Dr Moeti.

She was speaking during a virtual press conference yesterday in Brazzaville, Congo facilitated by APO Group.

 “It is important to have high vaccine coverage among health workers, not only for their protection but also for their patients and to ensure health care systems keep operating during a time of extreme need,” she added.

According to Dr Moeti,  Africa’s shortage of health workers is acute and profound, with only one country in the region having the required number of health workers (10.9 per 1,000 population) to deliver essential health services.

She said 16 countries in the region have less than one health worker per 1,000 people.

“Any loss of these essential workers to COVID-19 due to illness or death therefore heavily impacts on service provision capacity,” she said.

She said based on data reported to WHO by countries in the African Region, since March 2020, there have been more than 150, 400 COVID-19 infections in health workers, accounting for 2.5 per cent of all confirmed cases and 2.6 per cent of the total health workforce in the region.

Five countries account for about 70 per cent of all the COVID-19 infections reported in health workers, that including Algeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. After almost four months of a sustained decline, COVID-19 cases in the general population in Africa have plateaued.

For the first time since the third wave peaked in August, cases in Southern Africa have increased, jumping 48 per cent in the week ending November 21, compared with the previous week, which he said the risk of health workers’ infection rises whenever cases surge.

She further said this is a pattern that has been observed during the previous three waves of the pandemic. She said that with a fourth wave likely to hit after the end-of-year travel season, health workers will again face risks amid low vaccination coverage.

Dr Moeti said that to date, more than 227 million vaccine doses have been administered in Africa. 3.9 million doses have been given to health workers in the 39 countries that provided data.

 “With a new surge in cases looming over Africa following the end-of-year festive season, countries must urgently speed up the rollout of vaccines to health care workers,” said Dr Moeti.

She revealed that vaccine shipments have been on the rise over the past three months. Africa has received 330 million doses from the COVAX Facility, the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team and bilateral agreements since February 2021.