By Winniecynthia Awuor and Mary Hearty

Against all odds, Africa has reported a considerable reduction in pandemic-related disruptions to essential health services delivery.

This is according to Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa during the 72nd Session of the annual WHO Regional Committee for Africa in Lome, Togo.

Dr. Moeti noted that the reduction was as a result of collaborations that ensured improved vaccine coverage in Member States.

The WHO and COVID-19 delivery partnership, identified 20 countries with less than 10% vaccines coverage at the beginning of 2022 and deployed a team of experts to support scale up in their coverage and by April, they had a target of nine countries to be removed from the list.

“Great progress has been made in the first semester this year and now only eight countries are below the average and three countries have achieved over 70% coverage successfully,” she said.

In addition, the reduction has been made possible due to the collective response to the pandemic by the ministries of health, health sectors, and healthcare workers across the region. This has ensured that 194 million of the regional population which is around 17% are now fully vaccinated compared to 31 million last year.

The healthcare workers and the elderly aged 61 years and above, were made a priority in this exercise resulting in 50% being fully vaccinated, she said.

Also, the pandemic response units ensured that 60 000 health care workers were trained in the management of critical and severe patients, 47 countries were trained in infection prevention control and 15 countries had oxygen manufacturing capacity to give support to children with pneumonia.

Dr. Moeti noted that the reduction was made possible by enhancing community surveillance which led to a 30% success in the detection of new infections and the creation of awareness.

Furthermore, laboratory capacity has increased from two in 2020 to 1000 leading to the enhanced detection and sequencing capacity. Meanwhile, improved case management and intensive care unit made it possible to care for and reduce the death rate in the region.

“We believe that the attention needed to be paid in the intensive care unit will leave a legacy in terms of continuing to develop this capacity in our regions,” she added.

Meanwhile, Dr Moeti pointed out that three critical actions have now been identified to help address the remaining gaps. These include: scaling up and focusing on high priority groups, provider-initiated vaccination outreach and community-centered approaches; transition at the right phase towards the normally functioning health system by integrating COVID-19 vaccination into routine healthcare for chronic diseases for HIV, diabetes and cancers, among others; and consolidating, building on the innovation in COVID-19 vaccine data management to strengthen routine immunization and vaccine preventable disease surveillance data management.

To achieve these, she called for the need to include political leaders, religious leaders, and sporting heroes at the highest level to influence communities to recognize and create the need for vaccination.