The African Union’s health watchdog accused world leaders Thursday of falling short in their pledge to share coronavirus vaccines with poorer nations, and their failure risked making the disease endemic.
Africa is facing a COVID-19 resurgence as it lags in the global vaccination drive, with just 3.18 percent of its 1.3-billion population fully innoculated.
“We cannot continue to politicise this situation by making statements that we do not follow through with firm commitments,” John Nkengasong, head of Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said.
“Pledges do not put vaccines into peoples’ arms.”
Across the continent, cases are rising at an alarming rate.
More than 40 countries are experiencing a third wave of infection and six are grappling with their fourth, even as life in many wealthy nations is returning to normal thanks to high inoculation figures.
Facing anger over unequal access to jabs, the Group of Seven industrialised powers pledged in June to provide a billion Covid vaccines with developing nations, up from 130 million promised in February.
The G7 plan also included commitments to avert future pandemics — slashing time taken to develop and licence vaccines to under 100 days, reinforcing global surveillance and strengthening the WHO.
But Nkengasong said the doses had yet to materialise.
“We have not seen a billion vaccines,” he told an online press briefing.
“We are not as a continent very keen in any definition of vaccine diplomacy that would mean people make statements in the media that are not backed with reality,” he added.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Wednesday urged rich nations to give priority to getting first jabs for health workers and vulnerable populations in poorer nations over supplying boosters to their own citizens.
It is estimated Africa will need 1.5 billion vaccine doses to immunise 60 percent of its inhabitants and achieve some level of herd immunity.
“We are not going to win this war against the pandemic if we do not vaccinate everybody at speed,” said Nkengasong.
“Otherwise we should brace ourself to live with this virus as an endemic disease going forward.”
Coronavirus-linked deaths in Africa surged by 43 percent in the space of a week, driven by a lack of intensive-care beds and oxygen, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.
Fatalities associated with COVID-19 in the WHO’s Africa region, which includes North Africa, rose to 6,273 in the week of July 5-11, compared with 4,384 in the previous week.
The agency’s regional director, Matshidiso Moeti, told a virtual press conference that the rise was “a clear warning sign that hospitals in the most affected countries are reaching breaking point”.
It is crucial that African countries to beef up oxygen production to help patients suffering from the disease’s worst symptoms, she said, speaking from the Congo capital of Brazzaville.
The WHO said the rise in deaths paralleled a chronic shortage of vaccines, a spread in the more contagious Delta variant, which was now being detected in 21 African countries, along with public fatigue over prevention measures.
Africa has officially recorded over six million cases of Covid-19, a figure that is far lower than on other continents but one that experts say is likely to be a big underestimate.
Separately, African leaders, in talks with the World Bank on Thursday, appealed for a boost in help to combat the pandemic and ease debt burdens.
“There’s still a lot to be done to overcome this crisis,” said Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who opened the meeting in Abidjan.
“Less than three percent of Africa’s total population has received a first dose of vaccine, compared to around 54 percent in the United States and European Union.”
Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the Africa Union Commission, called for help to restructure the debt of struggling African countries, which faced “pressing needs for immediate liquidity to buy vaccines and set down the foundations of economic recovery”.
He said the pandemic had cause joblessness in Africa to rise by between 25 and 30 million, while 40 million had fallen back into extreme poverty.
The meeting is to discuss World Bank aid for African countries over the next three years.
The aid is administered via the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), which renews the programme every three years.
The talks have been brought forward by a year to help poor countries cope with the impact of the pandemic.
Over the last three years, the IDA has allotted $22 billion (19 billion euro) annually on average.
At least 14 civilians have been killed in fresh violence in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo and eight others suspected of collaborating with a notorious armed group have been lynched, sources said on Monday.
The Kivu Security Tracker (KST), an NGO which monitors violence in eastern DRC Congo, said at least 14 people were killed last Friday in three locations in Djugu territory, Ituri province, by assailants from a group called CODECO-URDPC.
Desire Malodra, a local civil society leader, said 15 people in the Djugu area died on Friday and Saturday in clashes between the DRC army and CODECO militiamen.
CODECO — for Cooperative for the Development of the Congo — is an armed political-religious sect that claims to defend the Lendu ethnic group.
It is one of more 120 armed groups that roam eastern DRC, many of them a legacy of bloody wars more than a quarter of a century ago.
The Lendu, mainly farmers, have been in historic conflict with the Hema community who are predominantly herders.
Tens of thousands of people on both sides died in a savage war between 1999 and 2003.
Violence returned in December 2017. CODECO has since been linked to more than 1,000 deaths.
A little further south, in Irumu territory, the army said eight civilians were “publicly lynched” on Thursday in Komanda, a town 75 kilometres (45 miles) south of the Ituri capital Bunia.
“We condemn (this) mob justice,” Lieutenant Jules Ngongo, the army spokesman in Ituri, told AFP.
The eight were from the Banyabwisha community, an ethnic group of Congolese Hutus with Rwandan roots.
In early June, the government accused members of the Banyabwisha community of “complicity” with the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a notorious Islamist armed group, following the massacre of some 50 civilians in Irumu territory.
The army urged the population not to “take justice into their own hands” but instead to inform on accomplices of armed groups so that the security forces could deal with them.
Gold-rich Ituri and neighbouring North Kivu province have been placed under a “state of siege” by President Felix Tshisekedi, who has vowed to clamp down on the violence.
The Delta variant of coronavirus is driving the pandemic forward in Africa at record speeds, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Thursday.
Infection numbers have increased in Africa for six weeks running, rising by a quarter week-on-week to almost 202,000 in the week that ended Sunday, it said.
The continent’s weekly record currently stands at 224,000 new cases.
Deaths rose by 15 percent across 38 African countries to nearly 3,000 in the same period.
“The speed and scale of Africa’s third wave is like nothing we’ve seen before,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director for Africa, said in a statement.
The highly contagious Delta variant has been reported in 16 countries, accounting for 97 percent of samples sequenced in Uganda and 79 percent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Oxygen demand in Africa is now 50 percent higher than at the peak of the first wave, a year ago.
“The rampant spread of more contagious variants pushes the threat to Africa up to a whole new level,” Moeti said.
“More transmission means more serious illness and more deaths, so everyone must act now and boost prevention measures to stop an emergency becoming a tragedy.”
The head of the DRC’s fight against Covid warned meanwhile of “catastrophe” if the Delta variant keeps rapidly spreading in the country.
“Our hospitals are overwhelmed, the morgues are overflowing, many politicians and university professors have been infected with the virus, and many have died,” Jean-Jacques Muyembe, head of the National Institute of Biomedical Research (INRB), said at an online press conference hosted by the WHO.
African countries are suffering from a crippling shortage of Covid vaccines.
Only 15 million people –- just 1.2 percent of the African population -– are fully vaccinated, the WHO said.
The World Bank has approved three billion dollars to cover vaccination in 32 countries around the world, which includes 15 nations in Africa.
In a statement made at the G7 leaders’ summit in the United Kingdom, the World Bank’s President, David Malpass, said the multilateral finance institution is partnering with the African Union to deploy vaccines for 400 million Africans.
Malpass mentioned that the World Bank Group has committed over 125 billion dollars since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, to combat the economic, health as well as social impacts of the pandemic, which is the fastest and largest crisis response in its history.
He also explained that the funding is helping more than 100 countries strengthen pandemic preparedness, protect the poor and jobs, and jump-start a climate-friendly recovery.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Government says the unpredictability of vaccine supply as a result of global shortage remains a huge challenge.
The Minister of Health, Doctor Osagie Ehanire, disclosed this last week during the weekly presidential media chat, saying the country is looking to get a donation of the COVID-19 vaccine from the Covax facility and other countries that no longer have a need for their oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
He hopes that the donation will be gotten in August 2021 at the earliest.
Speaking further the health minister said the local production of the COVID-19 vaccine is not yet feasible owing to the high cost of conducting clinical trials that runs into millions of dollars.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Friday described vaccine distribution in Africa as “scandalously inefficient” and warned against building an “invisible wall” around parts of the world unable to secure jabs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in May said two percent of Covid-19 vaccines globally had been administered in Africa, a continent of over 1.2 billion people.
Kagame said efforts to ensure fair vaccine access, including the WHO-backed Covax initiative, remained “scandalously inefficient” and added that depriving Africa risked prolonging the pandemic.
“The fact that Africa is not receiving vaccines, in the end is not good even for those getting the vaccines,” Kagame told AFP and France Inter in an interview late Friday.
“The backlash will be there, it will come back to them. If we do it equitably, then we have the chance of eradicating it globally.
“I hope we don’t find ourselves in a situation where it’s like building an invisible wall. Those who have been vaccinated saying ‘we need to remain safe so we need to keep away those who are not vaccinated’.
Kagame said it was essential Africa start manufacturing its own vaccines but pointed to hurdles in the way of investment, intellectual property rights and technology.
“These are things that need to be quickly sorted out,” he said.
“Our desire here in Rwanda, we hope we can see vaccine being manufactured here in no less than a period of one year. That is on a very optimistic side.”
In early May, the US expressed support for lifting intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to speed up production and distribution around the world.
Many EU countries have expressed skepticism about such a move.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who this week gifted Rwanda a batch of vaccines during a state visit, said Friday in South Africa that he agreed to a temporary waiver on patents if it would spur vaccine production in developing countries.
Rwanda has recorded nearly 27,000 cases of Covid-19 and around 350 deaths from the disease, according to the health ministry on May 27.
While investments in fossils are being sustained in wealthier countries, banning gas investments in developing nations raises questions around equity, justice, and inclusion as the global community approaches the Net-zero emission target of 2050.
Therefore, a just, equitable, and inclusive global energy transition especially for developing economies is imperative.
Those were the views expressed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, in his keynote speech today at the 7th Annual New York-based Columbia University Global Energy Summit organized by the Columbia Centre on Global Energy Policy.
This year’s edition which held virtually, focused on shaping the current energy system, what is ahead for energy policy, energy markets, geopolitics, technology, and efforts to reduce emissions while addressing climate change.
According to Prof. Osinbajo, “the global energy transition must be inclusive, equitable and just, taking into account the different realities of various economies and accommodating various pathways to net-zero by 2050.
“Nigeria and countries across Africa are committed to a net-zero future, especially given their vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change, and all have expressed commitment to their national development contributions under the Paris Agreement, however greater support in developing and implementing robust energy transition plans is needed.
“Clearly the Continent will require an unprecedented scale of investments. An energy mix compatible with a 1.5°C pathway would require $40 billion to flow into Sub-Saharan Africa annually; a fourfold increase compared to the $10 billion invested in 2018.”
The VP submitted “that a just energy transition for developing economies is central to the right to sustainable development and poverty eradication as enshrined in relevant global treaties including the Paris Agreement.
He then added with concern “ that globally, we are seeing wealthier nations and institutions banning all public investments in fossil, including natural gas. Examples include the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom (UK) and Denmark to name a few, as well as specific institutions such as the Swedfund from Sweden, CDC from the UK, the European Investment Bank, and the Investment Fund for Developing Countries from Denmark.”
In clear advocacy for a fairer approach, the VP said, “an inclusive and equitable transition will also take into account the principles of common but differentiated responsibility and leaving no one behind, that are enshrined into global treaties around sustainable development and climate action.”
Speaking on the Nigerian context, Prof. Osinbajo noted that “it means building sustainability into our economic planning, and so we have developed an Economic Sustainability Plan, which includes our flagship “Solar Power Naija” programme aiming to electrify 5 million households and 25 million people by 2023 leveraging solar mini-grids and stand-alone systems. We believe in the potential of off-grid renewables to close the energy deficit in Nigeria and across Africa.”
“But we also look to developed countries, the private sector, and development agencies to recognise the potential that a just and clean energy transition can bring to the development of our continent and other developing regions.
“We hope to work jointly towards common goals including the market and environmental opportunity presented by the financing of clean energy assets in growing energy markets,” the Vice President explained.
Emphasizing the need for equity, Prof. Osinbajo said “limiting the development of gas projects, poses dire challenges for African nations, while making an insignificant dent in global emissions.”
Making a case for justice, social justice, and fairness, the VP said “what is often not sufficiently considered in thinking through the transition to net-zero emissions is the critical role that energy, in our case, gas plays in catalyzing economic development and supporting people’s health and livelihoods, especially in poorer countries.
“Natural gas is currently used for industry, fertilizer manufacturing, and cooking – which are more difficult to transition than power generation.”
On the access element of the energy transition, the Vice President explained that “it must be linked with the emission reduction aspect.”
He noted that “pathways to reaching net-zero by 2050 have to include first ending energy poverty by 2030. If energy access issues are left unaddressed, we will continue to see growing energy demand being addressed with high polluting and deforesting fuels such as diesel, kerosene, and firewood.
On her part, the CEO and Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy, Mrs. Damilola Ogunbiyi, said the funding of projects that will guarantee cleaner energy sources will be critical to the attainment of net-zero by 2050.
Earlier in his opening remarks, the Founding Director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, Prof. Jason Bordoff said the annual gathering of energy experts is part of the contributions by the Centre in addressing pressing energy issues and expressed delight in having the Vice President share perspectives at the 2021 summit.
Other participants at the summit include American energy expert and Vice Chairman of IHS Markit, Daniel Yergin, who moderated a fireside chat with the Vice President after his keynote address, and Ms Caitlin Norfleet, the Event Manager of the Center on Global Energy Policy, among others.
The Confederation of African Football has intensified efforts for a $1billion lifeline for the wholesale revamp of football infrastructure on the African continent.
President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and Member of the CAF Emergency Committee, Amaju Pinnick, led the drive at a crucial meeting in Abidjan, the Ivorian capital.
“It was a very important meeting, as we started the push for our objective of raising $1billion to change the face of football infrastructure in Africa,” the NFF boss said.
He added, “You will recall that the CAF President made a statement regarding the need to raise this money for the sake of football infrastructure on our continent some weeks back. This new CAF regime is a doing team, not just a talking one. So, we have set out to work.”
Pinnick, who is also a member of FIFA Council, was accompanied by the president of the world’s football governing body, Gianni Infantino, and CAF President, Dr Patrice Motsepe, to pay a courtesy visit to the President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwunmi Adesina.
Also at the meeting were CAF General Secretary, Veron Mosengo-Omba, and Ivorian football legend Didier Drogba.
“The President of FIFA was there as solidarity for the steps we are taking. We had a very useful and positive meeting with the President of the African Development Bank; further talks are lined up.
“We are also going to meet with other institutions and individuals who have the means and the willingness to help African football to realise its potentials and break into the big time,” Pinnick stated.
The meeting in the Ivorian capital came only a few days after the CAF inspection team released a report stating categorically that 22 of the 54 countries in Africa have no football pitch that meets the standard to host international matches.
Less than two per cent of the 690 million COVID-19 vaccine doses administered so far globally have been in Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.
The United Nations health agency decried the situation where most of the African countries received vaccines only five weeks ago and in small quantities.
While 45 African countries have received vaccines, 43 of them have begun vaccinations and nearly 13 million of the 31.6 million doses delivered have been administered.
However, the pace of vaccine rollout is not uniform, the WHO added, noting that 93 per cent of the doses were given in 10 countries.
‘Fair Access To Vaccines’
Vaccine rollout preparedness, including training of health workers, prelisting priority groups and coordination has helped some countries quickly reach a large proportion of the targeted high-risk population groups, such as health workers, and the 10 countries that have vaccinated the most have used at least 65 per cent of their supplies, data revealed.
“Although progress is being made, many African countries have barely moved beyond the starting line,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti.
She added, “Limited stocks and supply bottlenecks are putting COVID-19 vaccines out of reach of many people in this region. Fair access to vaccines must be a reality if we are to collectively make a dent on this pandemic.”
Once delivered, vaccine rollout in some countries has been delayed by operational and financial hurdles or logistical difficulties such as reaching remote locations.
WHO, on its part, says it is supporting countries to tackle the challenges by reinforcing planning and coordination, advocating more financial resources, as well as setting up effective communications strategies to address vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.
It stated that the delays do not only affect vaccine delivery to priority targets, but they also affect the expansion of vaccinations to the rest of the population, some of whom have expressed eagerness to receive the doses.
Playing A Catch-Up?
This comes as WHO sets a target to vaccinate health workers and other priority groups in all countries in the first 100 days of 2021.
“Africa is already playing COVID-19 vaccination catch-up, and the gap is widening. While we acknowledge the immense burden placed by the global demand for vaccines, inequity can only worsen scarcity.
“More than a billion Africans remain on the margins of this historic march to overcome the pandemic,” Dr Moeti said.
Through the COVAX Facility, 16.6 million vaccine doses – mainly AstraZeneca – have been delivered to African countries.
This week, WHO’s Global Advisory Committee for Vaccine Safety concluded that the link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the occurrence of rare blood clots was plausible, but not yet confirmed.
The position was as a result of the announcement by the European Medicines Agency that unusual blood clots should be listed as very rare side-effects of the vaccine.
Among the almost 200 million individuals who have received the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine around the world, cases of blood clots and low platelets are extremely low.
However, the Global Advisory Committee for Vaccine Safety has continued to gather and review further data while carefully monitoring the rollout of all COVID-19 vaccines.
Based on current information, WHO considers that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks and that countries in Africa should continue to vaccinate people with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
There have been about 4.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the African continent and 114,000 people have died.
In the past two months, the region has seen a period of around 74,000 new cases per week, the WHO said
While Kenya is experiencing a third wave, the epidemic is showing an upward trend in 14 other African countries, including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mali, Rwanda, and Tunisia.
Up to 400 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine will be made available to African countries, the US pharmaceutical giant said Monday.
The availability of the single-shot vaccine will be subject to national regulatory approvals in the African Union’s 55 member states, with the first shipments expected to arrive in the third quarter of 2021.
“No one is safe until everyone is safe, and we have been committed to equitable, global access to new Covid-19 vaccines,” J&J’s CEO Alex Gorsky said in a statement.
The company said Janssen Pharmaceutica, a J&J subsidiary, had entered into an agreement with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) to initially make available up to 220 million doses of its vaccine.
AVAT can order an additional 180 million doses, for a combined total of up to 400 million doses through 2022.
But those figures, based on daily reports communicated by health authorities, only reflect a fraction of the actual case load, health specialists say.
“The cases are clearly under-reported because of poor access to healthcare facilities and under-reporting of milder cases,” South African virologist Barry Schoub, also a member of the Scientific Council at the South African Ministry of Health told AFP.
Understaffed health facilities and lack of means have meant many African countries have been unable to do mass testing.
“Many countries have mainly PCR tests in the capitals. And the further one moves away from the urban centres, the less there are tests,” explained French epidemiologist Emmanuel Baron from Doctors Without Borders.
“It is a disease that can go unnoticed with asymptomatic patients, or with symptoms that can be confused with others,” he added.
– Covid found in pawpaw – In Zimbabwe, a country with a devastated economy and mismanaged health system, hospitals are filled with Covid patients, exhausted doctors and overwhelmed nurses. But the official number of cases remains low.
Tanzania stopped testing in May 2020 after claiming it had found a positive Covid case in a pawpaw, a quail and even a goat. The Tanzanian government last released official figures in April.
“If someone had told me a year ago that we, as a continent, would see 100,000 deaths from this infection, I probably would not have believed it,” John Nkengasong, the Africa Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), told reporters on Thursday.
The toll in Africa is, however, significantly lower than in Europe, the world’s most affected region, with 818,912 deaths recorded so far. The other regions that are badly hit are Latin America with 649,006 deaths and the United States and Canada 512,295 deaths.
After a sharp increase in January, Africa’s figures have fallen sharply in the past few weeks. Over the last seven days, the continent recorded 3,054 deaths, a drop of 18 percent from the previous week.
At the height of the pandemic in January, the continent had 906 deaths per day.
– No disaster – While coronavirus figures are clearly underestimated, “we have not seen a health disaster in Africa to date”, said Baron.
Several studies on antibodies, which make it possible to detect whether a person who is recovered has previously been exposed to the virus, are underway in many African countries and should provide a better idea of the impact of the pandemic in the region.
South Africa, where almost all of the latest cases are attributed to a variant of the virus known to be more contagious and which has spread widely, represents nearly half of the deaths and reported cases on the continent.
The other African countries that are most affected are Egypt (10,150 deaths from 175,677 cases) and Morocco (8,524 deaths from 480,056 cases).
South Africa is also the country with most Covid-19 fatalities on the continent, counting 82 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, ahead of Tunisia (65 deaths) and Eswatini (55).
Lagging behind in the vaccination race, the continent’s leading industrial powerhouse administered its first vaccines on Wednesday.
Globally, Covid-19 has caused more than 109 million infections and over 2.4 million deaths since the start of the epidemic in Wuhan in China in December 2019.