Remarks by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti
Greetings to all our colleagues in the media and everyone watching online. Bonjour. Bom dia.
I am very pleased to be joined by the Honourable Minister of Health of Lesotho, Mr Semano Henry Sekatle. Welcome Minister. We look forward to hearing about the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines in Lesotho.
I am also very happy to welcome Excellency Stéphanie Seydoux, Ambassador for Global Health at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs in France, she is going to talk about France's decision to share COVID-19 vaccine doses with other countries through the COVAX Facility.
There have now been more than 4.7 million COVID-19 cases and 128,000 lives lost on the African continent. For the past three weeks, cases had declined, but this week we have seen an increase in fact of 17%, with 65,000 new cases reported. While it’s too soon to say if Africa is seeing a resurgence, however, we are seeing increases in a number of countries. We are monitoring the situation closely and we see that we are balancing on a knife’s edge.
South Africa accounts for almost a third of these new cases, with two out of nine provinces already experiencing a third wave. But in fact, most of the provinces have seen an increase in the number of cases. Population fatigue in adhering to preventive measures, the circulation of variants, and cooler weather in Southern Africa is driving people indoors and could be contributing to these increases.
We are concerned that increases in South Africa could spread to neighbouring countries, as has happened before. And note, Namibia and Zambia for example, are among 11 African countries experiencing an upward trend in cases.
So, this makes the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines all the more important. Almost six months after the first COVID-19 vaccination campaigns started globally, less than two doses per 100 people have been administered in sub-Saharan Africa.
At a minimum, Africa needs at least 20 million AstraZeneca vaccines by mid-July to deliver second doses to everyone who received their first shots. Africa needs vaccines now. Any pause in our vaccination campaigns will lead to lost lives and lost hope.
Another 200 million doses are needed so that the continent can vaccinate 10% of its population by September this year as called for by the WHO Director-General at the World Health Assembly this week.
As WHO, we are appealing to countries that have already vaccinated their high-risk groups, to significantly expand and bring forward their pledges and actions to share doses. Dose sharing is an urgent, critical and short-term solution to ensuring that Africans at greatest risk from COVID-19 get gold standard protection.
We also appeal to manufacturers to ensure that countries can contractually give doses to the COVAX Facility.
Vaccine manufacturing in African countries offers much promise. Investments should take a long-term view, including vaccines for other priority diseases, using different vaccine platforms, and pursuing coordinated, multi-country approaches. Ratifying the treaty for the African Medicines Agency is a key step that all countries on the continent can take to strengthen the regulatory environment for local production.
Finally, next Monday is World No Tobacco Day – tobacco kills half of its users, and globally every year, around 1.2 million non-smokers die from exposure to tobacco smoke. This year we are urging tobacco users to “commit to quit” and we are working with countries to improve access to supportive services, such as toll-free quit lines, nicotine replacement therapy, and text messaging and other information tools. Reducing tobacco use will save lives, save money and create healthier societies.
So, I look forward very much to our conversation with our two honorable panelists today, and with you our journalist colleagues, and thank you very much for joining us.