Impact of Covid-19 on Africa will be generational: Expert

AFRICA’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director, Dr John Nkengasong, says the impact of Covid-19 on the continent will be felt for generations to come in the absence of mitigation strategies. 

To date, Africa has recorded slightly above five million people who contracted Covid-19, with a mortality rate of 136 000.

“What is unique with this pandemic in Africa is that several countries as we speak, about 15 of them, are racing towards the third wave, and a couple of them actually are moving into the fourth wave,” said the Africa CDC Director in a Digital Press Briefing held Thursday.

In characterising Africa’s experience of dealing with Covid-19 in the past 18 months, Dr Nkengasong said it was ‘terribly’ unprecedented.

“It is unpredictable; and for Africa, also that it is a volatile situation.  We might actually be sitting on a volcano here to erupt if we do not do the right things and do them quickly,” he said.

“And the impact of this pandemic on the continent, the effect will be generational in terms of the disruption that it has caused for our economies, our health systems, and schools and other sectors. They are extremely uncertain times that we are living on the continent.”

The Africa CDC director noted how a few weeks ago, the continent observed a downward trend but then suddenly an aggressive upward trend occurred.

“And we don’t know how – where the peak will be.  But what we know for sure on the continent is that we’ve gone now through three waves and they – a wave is – the peak of any wave is usually higher than the previous wave, and there are usually more deaths resulting from the waves,” Dr Nkengasong said.

“Looking at the first wave on the continent, it was very difficult to find people who knew people that had died of Covid-19, but now it is very common to know – nearly everybody knows of somebody who has died of Covid-19 on the continent, and there are certain hotspots that are extremely troubling.  I think that is one.”

Dr Nkengasong added that generally, globally, the key lessons learnt from Covid-19 were the connectivity humanity had and how vulnerable the planet was.

“This virus has taught us that we are very, very vulnerable, very, very interconnected regardless of where we are, whether you live in the global north or you live in the global south and the inequities that exist within the continent between countries and between regions.  I think that is – clearly, we knew they were there, but this virus has further exposed that in an unprecedented manner,” said the health expert.

However, the Africa CDC director, reflected that going forward, people had the solutions to defeat the pandemic.

“I think – I strongly believe that we have the solutions to win this battle in our hands, if we do three things: if we really show and exercise global cooperation; if we exercise greater coordination; and if we show greater solidarity,” he said. 

Dr Nkengasong also welcomed the announcement by the United States administration to make available 500 million doses of vaccines and other vaccines.

“The commitment to the continent to fight this battle is extremely welcome. We do appreciate that,” he said.

Last week, US President Joe Biden announced America would be donating half a billion Pfizer vaccines through the COVAX initiative to the African Union (AU) and to additional low- and middle-income countries that make up part of the COVAX advanced market commitment, the 92 countries in that group. 

USAID COVID-19 Task Force Executive Director Jeremy Konyndyk said this was “the largest-ever donation of vaccines by any country in history and it further solidifies America’s commitment to saving lives and to helping lead the world out of this pandemic.”

He added that USAID will work with COVAX in distributing these vaccines and would consult with partners in Africa, including Nkengasong and his team on their vaccine work on the continent. 

“We are also actively consulting with the Africa CDC and the AU on the distribution of 80 million vaccine doses that we previously announced, so that will bring so far the total US. vaccine dose donations to 580 million doses globally between the sharing of US vaccines and the purchase of the new Pfizer vaccines. That builds of course on two billion that the US had already announced as a contribution to Gavi, the vaccine alliance for the COVAX platform,” he said.

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