Opening statement, COVID-19 Press Conference with Africa CDC, 29 July 2021

Submitted by on Thu, 29/07/2021 - 13:54

Remarks by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti

Good morning and good afternoon to all the journalists who have joined us and to everyone watching this press conference online.

I am pleased to join my brother Dr John Nkengasong in this briefing and I’d like to commend John for your leadership, for the intense and sustained action that you have put in place with your team to support African countries. It is absolutely unprecedented and we are very pleased indeed to be working with you and your team.  

In this briefing today, of course John has already outlined the situation as far as the pandemic is concerned and I’m going to say something to you about the ongoing efforts to step up vaccine acquisition, delivery and rollout on the continent. 

As Dr Nkengasong has said, the continent is still in the throes of the pandemic’s third wave, although we’ve observed a slight slowdown in cases in the last two weeks. But, we know many things are happening daily including the just held Eid celebration that continue to fuel the spread of the virus. So, we need to be monitoring these changes daily and monitoring these limited gains closely –we know we are not out of the woods yet by any means.

This has been the fastest rising surge - powered mainly by people’s fatigue with COVID-19 preventive measures, the presence of more transmissible variants and the continent’s very low vaccination coverage and about 30 countries have used more than three-quarters of the vaccines they received.

Encouragingly, we are beginning to see positive signs as vaccine deliveries to Africa are picking up pace after coming to halt.

So, considering a two-dose schedule, as is the case with most of the vaccines available, 820 million vaccine doses are needed to reach the target of fully vaccinating 30% of Africa’s population by the end of this year. 
In comparison with only 245,000 doses that were supplied to just six countries in the whole of June, over the past week alone, 3.8 million vaccine doses were delivered to 13 countries through the COVAX Facility, bringing the total doses delivered to the continent to 82 million.

These recently delivered vaccines are part of 60 million doses that COVAX has allocated to 49 African countries, to be shipped between now and September.

Africa still needs more than 700 million doses to reach the 30% year-end target.

And COVAX has also sealed deals with Sinopharm and Sinovac to supply 110 million doses for immediate supply to low-income countries, and out of these, 32.5 million are coming to Africa. These doses have been allocated to countries this week and will be delivered as soon as countries are ready to receive them.

With more vaccine candidates and manufacturing sites at the tail end of the review process for approval by WHO for Emergency Use Listing, the COVAX facility is confident or hopeful, let me say that it will meet its end of the bargain to deliver at least 520 million doses to Africa by end of 2021.

We are really pleased and we commend the action of the African Union in also going out and seeking vaccines and they have announced plans to start delivering the 400 million Johnson & Johnson doses that have been acquired and procured on behalf of African countries.

This collective effort needs to include increased donations from high-income countries. We very much appreciate the action of the US government in providing millions of doses already through the COVAX and in agreement with the African Union. So, we expect countries that have completed vaccination of most of their vulnerable populations to join the US and to increase the doses that they are proposing to deliver and do that urgently, and also very importantly, to release for purchase by COVAX and AVATT the reserved doses of vaccines that they’ve already prepaid with the manufacturers. In short, we promote very strongly the enlightened self-interest aimed at reducing the emergence of more variants for everyone by these countries donating and allowing the sale of the vaccines that they’ve already booked so to speak. 

With the expected influx of vaccines, it is crucial that countries scale up all the aspects of vaccine rollout to reach as many people as possible. This entails mobilizing adequate resources including finances for the vaccination activities, logistics and personnel as well as addressing any concerns by communities including those fuelled by misinformation to increase vaccine confidence and demand.

We continue to support countries to better plan and cost vaccine operational and delivery processes. In the first phase of the rollout, countries were unable to lock out funding very often because costing plans often omitted critical expenses, such as the cost of remuneration of vaccinators, administration, cold-chain storage, logistics and distribution at the sub-national level of vaccines to the delivery points. 

Our experts have been on the ground since the onset of the pandemic, working with governments and partners to curb the virus by boosting key response measures including through the testing, contact tracing, treatment, vaccine preparedness, rollout and monitoring of any adverse events due to the vaccines. 

To date, WHO in the African region has deployed over 700 staff and consultants to support national authorities in COVID-19 response. In addition, almost 1300 of our staff have been repurposed to focus on pandemic control activities.

African people, just like the rest of the world, are eager to see a return to normal life. But we must all do our part by getting vaccinated when the occasion is there for us, when the jabs are offered to us and adhering to the preventive measures that have been so important in limiting transmission of the virus in Africa. 

I believe together we can begin to turn the tide against this untold human tragedy and I look forward very much to our conversation today and thank you once again for having joined us. Thank you, John for having invited me to join.