By Vanessa Akoth

With the surging numbers of COVID-19 cases and less than 2% of Africans vaccinated, African Health ministers met to discuss holistic public health approaches to facilitate the fight against COVID-19 amidst the stretch it has had on health systems.

The special online session aimed to brief ministers on the state of COVID-19 across the World Health Organization (WHO) African Region, share approaches in tackling the pandemic and discuss how African countries can learn from COVID-19 and build more sustainable systems to prevent, detect and respond to future health emergencies.

“Africa has shown leadership, determination and fortitude and I commend the swift action and tough decisions taken by African governments, particularly early on in the pandemic. We must build on this renewed unity of purpose to strengthen our surveillance systems, bolster treatment capacities, step up the supply of crucial medicines and swiftly vaccinate those most in need. COVID-19 has been a ruthless reminder that we must invest in our health systems for the health, security and prosperity of all Africans,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

According to WHO the third wave of the pandemic has declined over the last five weeks since its peak in July which saw Africa register more than seven million infections and up to 6,400 reported deaths earlier in August.

South Africa and Tunisia are among the 16 countries still experiencing a surge in new cases and accounting for over 55% of Africa’s fatality rates.

“It is only together that the world can rise to the challenge of ending the COVID-19 pandemic… [In Côte d’Ivoire] Abidjan is the epicenter and our country is making every effort to contain it. The number of deaths rose significantly in recent days, showing that this latest wave will have higher consequences in terms of mortality,” said Hon Pierre N’gou Dimba, Minister of Health, Public Hygiene and Universal Health Coverage of Cote d’Ivoire, who was speaking on behalf of H.E. Dr Alassane Ouattara, President of Cote d’Ivoire in a keynote address.

The ministers met for the special session at the Seventy-first session of the WHO Regional Committee for Africa—the Organization’s decision-making body—that comprises Ministers of Health from the 47 Member States of the WHO African Region as well as key partners.

“The United States Government is committed to increasing global COVID-19 vaccination coverage by helping fund relief efforts and by donating vaccines. We encourage other countries with access to vaccine supply also to share their supply,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, Director, United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), during a session on boosting demand for COVID-19 vaccines in communities.

“To date, the United States has donated and shipped more than 110 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which have reached over 60 countries, including over 18 million doses donated to countries in Africa.”

WHO has supported African countries since the outset of the pandemic, sharing crucial supplies, including nearly 5500 life-saving oxygen concentrators, deploying emergency teams to 15 countries, training 200 000 health workers, working with communities to stem the spread of the virus and sharing crucial guidance.