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Only five African nations might achieve COVID-19 year-end vaccination target, WHO warns

By Chukwuma Muanya
01 November 2021   |   3:15 am
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, yesterday, at a virtual conference on COVID-19, said just five of the 54 African nations

The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, yesterday, at a virtual conference on COVID-19, said just five of the 54 African nations could achieve the year-end target of vaccinating 40 per cent of their populations, except something drastic, happens in the face of rising demand for essential commodities like syringes.

She said Seychelles, Mauritius and Morocco have already met the goal that was set in May by the World Health Assembly, the globe’s highest health policy-setting body. At the current pace, just two more countries, Tunisia and Cabo Verde would join the club.

The WHO official was joined at the event, facilitated by APO Group, by Director-General, Rwanda Biomedical Centre, Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana, and Director of External Affairs for PATH in the Africa Region & PATH Country Representative, South Africa, Sibusiso Hlatjwako.

Also on the ground to respond to questions were WHO’s New Vaccine Introduction Officer, Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe, and Deputy Incident Manager for COVID-19 Response, Dr. Thierno Balde.

Moeti feared that limited access to key items such as syringes might slow the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines on the continent.

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has reported an imminent shortfall of up to 2.2 billion auto-disable syringes for COVID-19 vaccination and routine immunisation in 2022. This includes 0.3ml auto-disposable syringes for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination.

The Botswanan physician said there “is no global stockpile of the 0.3ml specialised syringes, which differ from the 0.5ml syringes used for other types of COVID-19 vaccines and routine vaccination.”

“The market for 0.3ml auto-disable syringes is tight and extremely competitive. As such, these are in short supply and will remain so through at least the first quarter of next year,” she added.

The regional director said Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa and others had experienced delays in receiving syringes.

Moeti continued: “The looming threat of a vaccine commodities crisis hangs over the continent. Early next year, COVID-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but a scarcity of syringes could paralyse progress. Drastic measures must be taken to boost syringe production. Countless African lives depend on it.”

Also, according to a new policy brief launched yesterday, and co-authored by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, delivering immunisation and nutrition programmes is necessary to maximise results and minimise costs of critical health services, as well as enabling more people to be reached, particularly in vulnerable communities.

The document titled ‘Equity from birth: an integrated approach to immunisation and nutrition’ stressed that malnutrition and infectious diseases cause millions of preventable child deaths yearly and contribute to a vicious cycle of poor health, stunted growth, poverty and exclusion, while malnutrition – both undernourished and overweight ­– could severely decrease COVID-19 survival rate.

Ahead of the December 7 to 8 Nutrition for Growth Summit (N4G) held in Tokyo, Gavi and SUN are calling on global leaders and key decision-makers to prioritise this two-pronged vaccine-nutrition approach through clear commitments.

United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and SUN Movement Coordinator, Gerda Verburg, said: “Delivering immunisation and nutrition services together will ensure that more people can be reached, especially the vulnerable, women and children. This would also contribute to building communities that are resilient to COVID-19 and future pandemics.”