By Gift Briton

If Africa is to meet the global 70% vaccination target by June, they need to increase the pace of vaccine rollout to 36million people a week (six times the rate of current rollout) to put the continent on the right path in the fight against COVID-19, World Health Organization(WHO) says.

A new report from WHO reveals that African countries are still lagging behind the rest of the world in the vaccine rollout despite the significant increase in supplies for COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The continent has received 587 million COVID 19 doses yet only 11% of its population are fully vaccinated with 85% are yet to get their first doses, WHO reveals.

Despite Mauritius and Seychelles having met the 70% target with seven African countries having vaccinated 40% of their population, WHO says vaccination rates in the continent still remains low.

“The world has finally heard our calls. Africa is now accessing the vaccines it has demanded for far too long. This is a dose of hope for this year. However, a dependable pipeline must go hand in hand with operational funding to move doses out of depots and into people’s arms,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

WHO points out that the continent has reported a total of 11 million COVID-19 case, sadly 239,000 lives have been lost due to the pandemic.

Additionally, new COVID 19-cases and deaths have reduced significantly in all African regions for three successive weeks except South Africa which is reporting a slight increase in new cases and North Africa which is recording 25% increase in weekly deaths.

However, WHO notes that vaccination still remains the best defense against severe illness and overwhelmed health systems, adding that the latest COVID-19 Omicron variant will not be the last.

The organization further notes that the slow uptake in COVID-19 vaccines in Africa requires global partners and countries to reset their programs.

In this context, WHO in the African Region, along with UNICEF and other partners, are joining forces to urgently increase support to countries to enable them to overcome barriers, improve coordination, and speed up vaccination efforts in the continent.

“UNICEF is at the forefront of the largest, most sophisticated ground operation in the history of immunization – and it will take a response of the same magnitude to turn vaccines into vaccinations. Richer countries must not only ensure they are donating vaccine doses that have adequate shelf lives but also contribute funding for in-country operational costs,” said Mohamed Malick Fall, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern & Southern Africa.

Guided by a research finding from Fact-finding Mission which was conducted last year on all African countries that aimed at understanding the challenges and identifying the barriers in vaccine rollout, WHO and UNICEF, alongside other international and national partners, have launched an initiative to support 20 priority countries with low vaccine uptake.

The program will see technical experts deployed to 20 countries with significant challenges in vaccine rollout to form a special support team in the communities for three to six month.

The team will be working very closely with the Ministries of Health in the respective countries to strengthen partner coordination, logistical and financial planning, including microplanning, surveillance of adverse events following immunization, as well as the management of data on vaccination uptake and vaccine stock.

The team will also be involved in engaging and empowering communities to follow key public health measures and support vaccine rollout.

“This year, a lot more needs to be done to gain communities’ trust. When communities are in the driver’s seat, they become vital contributors to finding solutions to the outbreaks of diseases. In South Sudan, community-based Red Cross volunteers tackled the problem of slow vaccine uptake, through improved community trust, and helped prevent vaccine wastage,” said Mohammed Omer Mukhier, IFRC Regional Director for Africa.

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