Opening statement, Press Conference, 8 December 2022

Submitted by on Thu, 08/12/2022 - 15:25

Remarks by Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa

Good day, bonjour to all the journalists who are joining us today.

I am in Geneva, where I have come for a WHO management meeting with all our Country Representatives.

This is my last press conference for 2022, and I will look back at some of the health issues that have dominated the year, particularly COVID-19 and the Ebola outbreak in Uganda.

I’m delighted to be joined by Dr Jane Ruth Aceng Ocera, the Honourable Minister of Health of Uganda, and by Dr Ahmadou Lamin Samateh, the Honourable Minister of Health of the Gambia. A very warm welcome to you both, Honourable Ministers.

As we head into the year-end holiday season, we see Africa has recorded a four-week-long rise in new COVID-19 cases until the 20th of  November – but the number of new cases dropped slightly in the past two weeks, breaking that upward trend. With a little over 12 300 new cases and 50 deaths, the numbers remain at their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic.

Despite the recent uptick, there is hope that Africa will be spared the challenges of the previous two years when surging cases marred the holiday season for many. While the current efforts keep the pandemic within control, we are carefully monitoring its evolution. We must remain vigilant and be ready to adopt more stringent preventive measures, if necessary.

We are also seeing that the investments made in the COVID-19 over the last three years are paying off, with the region better able to cope with the virus and its health emergency response systems bolstered.

At the onset of the pandemic, the average number of intensive care unit beds stood at 3 per 100 000 people, for example, below the WHO recommendation of a minimum of 5 per 100 000. With the support of WHO and partners, 70% of countries in the region have met the minimum standard.

Medical oxygen production has also grown. We’ve supported nine countries to set up and maintain oxygen production plants, increasing the region’s output by 7.9 million litres a day—enough to treat 1130 critically care patients a day. This is one-third of the continent’s needs, but other partners are also contributing to the efforts to address that gap.

This strengthening of emergency care in health facilities benefits patients with a range of diseases, beyond COVID-19, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and severe pneumonia.

In addition, Africa made huge steps to strengthen laboratory capacity including conducting genomic sequencing. Around 105 000 sequences were produced in 2022 compared with 58 600 or so in 2021. This increased capacity has now been used to track other viruses, such as monkeypox, Ebola and cholera and will be a key public health tool for the future.

In recent months, a great deal of effort has been made by African countries on COVID-19 vaccination. I commend the efforts of our Member States in carrying out mass vaccination campaigns and increasing their coverage through them.

We acknowledge that there are gaps in vaccination, especially in reaching the most vulnerable groups. Still, we have seen an increase in the number of vaccinated health workers, older people, and people with underlying illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

There is a need to reach higher coverage in these most vulnerable groups, accompanied by integration with appropriate boosting.

We will continue to support countries to ensure that vaccines are always available to all eligible people.

Local production of vaccines has emerged strongly as an important way forward. The mRNA hub in Cape Town, South Africa for example,  and its branches—which will share share mRNA technology with manufacturers in African countries—is a critical platform; there is also the Afrigen platform that has developed the first novel vaccine produced on the continent. All this, in addition to strengthened regulatory capacities, partnerships and collective processes. 

The pandemic is not yet over. We must maintain our successes into the coming year and beyond. As we move into 2023, it is time to bring COVID-19 out of emergency response mode and integrate it into routine health care.

With the last confirmed case discharged on the 30th of November 2022, Uganda has begun the countdown to the end of the Ebola outbreak in that country.

Candidate vaccines against the Sudan ebolavirus arrived today in the country. This is a promising step towards possible protection against the virus, with African researchers taking a leading role. It showcases the power of scientific research on our continent.

We’ve been pleased to support the training of health care workers and providing additional equipment and we will be pleased to hear about this from the Minister of Health. 

Our goal is to end the outbreak, but it is dynamic. We’ve seen that new cases can be confirmed in the last days of a countdown. We’ve seen that in other Ebola outbreaks as well. 

We must, however not lower our guard, and we will remain in active response mode. So, we are supporting the country in conducting enhanced surveillance with strengthened active case searches in health facilities.

We are also ensuring that all countries in the region are better prepared for emergencies. We conducted the region’s largest public health emergency operation centre simulation exercise this week. The training aims to step up awareness and preparedness, with 36 countries participating in the two-day exercise.

Another crucial health concern for our region is malaria. As you know, Africa bears the heaviest burden of this disease. Today, we are releasing new data on malaria, showing that despite widespread disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries held back against further setbacks in malaria prevention, testing and treatment services.

Although malaria cases continued to rise between 2020 and 2021, the pace was slower than the increase recorded between 2019 and 2020. 

But even with the slowdown, efforts to reach the targets for reducing global malaria cases and mortality rates by at least 90% by 2030 face many challenges, especially in Africa.

We are supporting countries to accelerate the progress against malaria by reinforcing measures to curb antimalarial drug resistance and stop the spread of the  malaria vector. 

To make this a success, new tools—and the funding to deploy them—are urgently needed to help us defeat malaria.
Thank you once again, dear colleagues, journalists for joining us and I’m looking forward to the conversation on these important health issues in our region and, once more, a warm welcome to our two Ministers that are joining us today.