Kampala: An Ugandan minister has blamed the west for his country’s inability to secure more Covid-19 vaccines, as the World Health Organization warned Africa urgently needed hundreds millions more jabs to fend off a surging third wave of infections. Chris Baryomunsi said Uganda had been able to vaccinate more than a million people but was unable to obtain further shots.
“The problem has been the supply side,” said Baryomunsi, who is also an epidemiologist. “We have the money but we simply can’t get the vaccine. This is a challenge of access and equity. We have to rely on the western world and the western world has focused on its population. The impression is that people there don’t care about Africans.”
Uganda, which successfully repressed earlier waves of infection, has like other countries across Africa risked significant economic damage by imposing another severe lockdown. “There was complacency that set in with the population and then a new variant that was much more aggressive,” Baryomunsi said. “We have lost many people. The good news is that we have started to bring down infections.”
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s director for Africa, said the continent had just marked its most dire pandemic week ever. “But the worst is yet to come as the fast-moving third wave continues to gain speed and new ground,” she said. In the seven days, the continent recorded 251,000 cases, a 21% increase. So far only 1.6% of vaccine doses administered globally have been given in Africa, and less than 2% of its population vaccinated.
“This leaves hundreds of millions of people still vulnerable to infection and serious illness,” Moeti said. “The end to this precipitous rise is still weeks away. We can still break the chain of transmission by testing, isolating contacts and cases and following key public health measures.”
Sixteen African countries are experiencing a resurgence of the virus, with the more contagious Delta variant detected in 10 of them. In all, 151,000 people have died across the continent. With limited testing and mortality statistics, both totals are thought to be very significant underestimates.
South Africa is the worst-hit country in Africa, with new daily infections hitting record highs, fuelled by the Delta variant and late responses from policymakers. Excess mortality figures in South Africa suggest more than 170,000 have died of the disease, though official statistics record 65,000.
Though infections in the country’s economic heartland of Gauteng province appeared to have reached a peak, the rest of South Africa is being hit hard, leading to further criticism of local authorities and the ruling African National Congress. Cyril Ramaphosa, the president, is likely to announce the extension of restrictions imposed two weeks ago. In Sudan, almost 200 doctors and other frontline health workers have died of Covid, and most are still waiting for vaccines, local medical staff said.