By Sola Ogundipe
African countries are at potential risk of suffering an explosion of deaths from malaria, measles, and other infectious diseases as a result of the surging COVID-19 cases
Disclosing this on Wednesday, during a high-level panel discussion on new findings from the latest report by the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19, PERC, the President/CEO, Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, Dr Tom Freiden, warned that Africa was treading on a thin line in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Freiden, a former director of the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, who spoke to the report, entitled: “Responding to COVID-19 in Africa: Finding the Balance (Part III)”, said Africa faced even bigger challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are pursuing a huge burden of COVID-19 in Africa despite the huge misconceptions around the world that Africa has been relatively spared. But there are many more non-Covid problems recognised with other challenges.
“We have a tale of two worlds going on – the world where there are vaccines and is crushing the curve and beginning to usher in an era of post-Covid reality in many countries around the world, and a world where vaccines remain many months away, where we are facing the risk of explosive outbreaks with the new and deadly variants as we are still seeing in India, Nepal and elsewhere.”
Further, Freiden explained that as a result of the high burden of infectious diseases, Africa is particularly vulnerable to these non-Covid health problems.
“Malaria and measles are at risk of getting much worse and getting the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children this year and next year because malaria already kills nearly 400,000 children a year in Africa, and if bednets and rapid treatment become less available, we will see a big increase in deaths.
“Similarly, measles continues to kill 100,000 a year in Africa and if vaccination campaigns and treatments are not abe to be continued in full force, then there will be increase in cases and deaths.”
On the impact of the energence of new COVID-19 variants, he noted: “We need to vaccinate. What we are seeing is the evolution of variants that spread more readily and may well be more deadly and may evade some of our vaccines.
Lamenting that Africa had been left behind in the vaccines race, he said with just 21 million doses of vaccines given in Africa,that is about the number of doses given per week in the US with less than half the population of Africa.
“This is ethically unacceptable. The world must provide more vaccines to Africa, immediately.”
“In addition, in the medium term, we need to scale up manufacture as rapidly as possible with all the effective vaccines available. There is a deep and tragic irony, we are seeing vaccine hesitancy in countries that are lacking doses, and we also need to protect healthcare workers,’ he asserted.
The report calls for targeted public health measures for high-risk populations, increased surveillance in light of new variants and scaled-up vaccine supply from the global community to control the pandemic in Africa.
The findings are based on a new survey of over 24,000 adults in Nigeria and 18 other African Union Member States, conducted by the Partnership for Evidence-Based COVID-19 Response, PERC.
Fndings in a new regional report on “Using Data to Find a Balance”, an analysis of public opinion survey responses with social, economic, and epidemiological data, with recommendations for governments as they navigate the ongoing pandemic.