By Saumu Juma

With an 83% surge in COVID-19 cases in Africa in the past one week with the Delta and Omicron variants mainly being detected, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Word Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa said that Africa is likely to report more cases if the vaccination rate does not improve.

“We are cautiously optimistic that deaths and severe illness will remain low in the current wave, but slow vaccine rollout in Africa means both will be much higher than they should be,” she said at a virtual conference held by APO Group.

“We’ve known for quite some time now that new variants like Beta, Delta or Omicron could regularly emerge to spark new outbreaks globally, but vaccine-deprived regions like Africa will be especially vulnerable.”

Dr. Moeti continued to say that only 20 out of the 54 countries in Africa have successfully vaccinated at least 10% of their population as of 13th December while only 6 have hit their yearly target of 40% with Mauritius and Seychelles leading at 70% coverage in efforts of controlling the virus.

She urged other countries to improve their coverage to ensure safety in the continent by the beginning of next year.

“We can’t afford to drop our guard. We are entering the holiday season of traditional gatherings and travel with vaccination coverage still disappointingly low in Africa. Predictions are that if things continue like this, Africa may not reach the 70% vaccination target,” Dr. Moeti said.

Additionally, she noted that more than 70 countries have imposed a travel ban on Africa as a measure to contain the virus stating that 2,700 Omicron variant cases have been reported in 59 countries with 11 being from Africa which account to 33% of the total cases.

Dr. Moeti called for the lifting of the ban because the variant has already spread to most countries and Africa’s share is currently dropping as South Africa no longer leads in its cases.

“There’s no strong scientific evidence that supports the introduction of such restrictions to curb the spread of the virus yet they have devastating repercussions for the economy of the affected countries,” she said.

“Blanket travel bans have little impact on the course of an epidemic but have a massive socioeconomic effect,” said Dr. Moeti. “Coming after two years of COVID-19, these new travel restrictions are jeopardizing the health of millions of Africans.”