By Charlie Chilufya, S.J

A third wave of COVID-19 infections more brutal than the first two that came before is seriously ravaging some sub-Saharan Africa countries, most of them in southern Africa as the continent falls way behind the rest of the world in vaccinations. The current rate of infections being experienced in sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest in the world so far. It has been reported that the latest (delta) variant is 60 percent more transmissible than earlier variants.  In some countries, infections are already more than double, or even triple, their January/February peaks. For example, according to the South African health ministry, in South Africa alone, recorded infections have spiked from 800 per day as of April to more than 13, 000 per day in June. In Zambia, by mid-June, recorded infections were double the January second wave peak.

The first wave spared sub-Saharan Africa. The region did not experience infection rates seen elsewhere around the world. Six months later, sub-Saharan Africa experienced a second wave that spread faster than the first. In a number of countries however, the second wave already pushed strained local health systems to the breaking point. Another six months on, the third wave has hit even harder with devastating effects. Health systems are teetering on the brink of collapse; hospital beds and oxygen supplies are dwindling as 14 countries report their worst levels of infection since the pandemic began. Governments in sub-Saharan Africa are facing serious difficulties in heading off an imminent crisis. In Zambia and Namibia, new cases have outpaced the January levels in a matter of only three weeks. Countries north of southern Africa need to build some level of resistance to stave off a new surge, otherwise it may already be too late.

The only way to save the region from this vicious pandemic cycle is to swiftly implement a widespread vaccination program.  At the moment, the vaccine rollout in sub-Saharan Africa is the slowest in the world. While in advanced economies an average 30 out of hundred adults are vaccinated, in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 1 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. This implies that even with limited supplies of protective equipment, most essential frontline workers continue to work without the protection of vaccination. 

Africa Left Behind

Another fissure of global inequality has manifested. On one side of the chasm, Northern countries with good access to vaccines are slowly returning to normalcy with strong recoveries while on the other side of the chasm, sub-Saharan countries are left behind in panic as a new and deadlier variant of the disease overwhelms already strained healthcare systems. While lives are being lost in sub-Saharan, some of the world’s richer countries have stockpiled enough vaccines to cover their populations many times over.

What should be done? 

Speed up the vaccine effort! Africa needs international assistance to save lives otherwise sub-Saharan Africa will see repeated waves of infection. If nothing is done, the new waves of infection will take an ever-increasing toll on lives. Even worse, they will wreak havoc on livelihoods of the region’s most vulnerable and effectively paralyse economies.

Here are key steps we can take to ensure the needed vaccination targets are met:

As has been noted before, the vaccination of Africa is not simply an African issue of saving local lives and livelihoods. It is also a global public good. If the Northern countries desire the most durable vaccine effort, the effort should cover everyone and every country.

One Response

  1. An excellent piece. How do we push for action? We need to find ways of influencing the north to act and act fast for the sake of preserving Africa as another vital part of human family.

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