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COVID-19: WHO warns of fast-surging third wave in Africa

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paramedics treat a COVID-19 patient outside an emergency ward of a government hospital in Kathmandu [File: Niranjan Shrestha/AP]

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, warned that Africa is facing a fast-surging third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, with cases spreading more rapidly and projected to soon overtake the peak of the second wave the continent witnessed at the start of 2021.

WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, during a virtual press conference, yesterday, facilitated by APO Group, said COVID-19 cases have risen for five consecutive weeks since the onset of the third wave on May 3, 2021. As of June 20, day 48 into the new wave, Africa had recorded around 474,000 new cases—a 21 per cent increase compared with the first 48 days of the second wave. At the current rate of infections, the ongoing surge is set to surpass the previous one by early July.

According to Moeti, “the pandemic is resurging in 12 African countries. A combination of factors including weak observance of public health measures, increased social interaction and movement as well as the spread of variants are powering the new surge. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda that are experiencing COVID-19 resurgence, the Delta variant has been detected in most samples sequenced in the past month. Across Africa, the variant—first identified in India—has been reported in 14 countries.”

Also raising the alarm that Africa is not winning its fight against COVID-19 amid struggle to access enough vaccines for their populations is Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director, John Nkenkasong.

The COVAX programme co-led by the WHO for fair distribution of vaccines is now planning a shake-up as it has been shunned by rich countries and failing to meet the needs of the poorest. Nkenkasong said he was more worried about getting vaccines in time regardless of where the doses came from.

“The third wave has come with severity that most countries were not prepared for. So the third wave is extremely brutal,” Nenkasong said during a weekly online briefing yesterday.

“Let me put it bluntly, we are not winning in Africa this battle against the virus, so it does not really matter to me whether the vaccines are from COVAX or anywhere. All we need is rapid access to vaccines.”

Nkenkasong said at least 20 countries were in the middle of the third wave, with Zambia, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo among those whose health facilities were being overwhelmed.

The COVAX programme’s initial lofty ambitions to act as a clearing house for the world’s vaccines, collecting from the manufacturers in the most developed countries and quickly distributing to those with the most urgent need, have fallen flat.

About 1.12 per cent people have been fully vaccinated on a continent that has recorded 5.2 million infections, Nkenkasong said.

Continuing, Moeti said: “The third wave is picking up speed, spreading faster, hitting harder. With rapidly rising case numbers and increasing reports of serious illness, the latest surge threatens to be Africa’s worst yet.

Africa can still blunt the impact of these fast-rising infections, but the window of opportunity is closing. Everyone everywhere can do their bit by taking precautions to prevent transmission.”

WHO said it is deploying more experts to some of the worst affected countries, including Uganda and Zambia as well as supporting South Africa-based regional laboratories to monitor variants of concern. WHO is also boosting innovative technological support to other laboratories in the region without sequencing capacities to better monitor the evolution of the virus. In the next six months, WHO is aiming for an eight-to ten-fold increase in the samples sequenced each month in Southern African countries.

According to WHO, the COVID-19 upsurge comes as the vaccine supply crunch persists. Eighteen African countries have used over 80 per cent of their COVAX vaccine supplies, with eight having exhausted their stocks. Twenty-nine countries have administered over 50 per cent of their supplies. Despite the progress, just over one per cent of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated. Globally, around 2.7 billion doses administered, of which just under 1.5 per cent have been administered in the continent.



Moeti said: “With high vaccination rates, it’s shaping up into a summer of freedom, family and fun for millions of people in richer countries. This is understandable and we all long for the same joys.

“Vaccine shortages are already prolonging the pain of COVID-19 in Africa. Let’s not add injury to injustice. Africans must not face more restrictions because they are unable to access vaccines that are only available elsewhere. I urge all regional and national regulatory agencies to recognize all the vaccines Emergency Use listed by WHO.”

In the European Union, a COVID-19 passport system for vaccination, testing and recovery will take effect from 1 July. However, only four of the eight vaccines listed by WHO for emergency use are recognised by the European Medicines Agency for the passport system.

THE Federal Government yesterday said it has experienced great frustration regarding the global vaccine supply. Government lamented that not only has there been huge challenges with respect to vaccine manufacturers producing enough doses for the world, but there also has been great inequity in terms of distribution.

Meanwhile, Nigeria has not recorded any fresh case of death directly linked to COVID-19 vaccination even as 2,099,568 people have been vaccinated with their first doses of Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine and 1,005,234 already received their second dose.

Executive Director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr Faisal Shuaib, who disclosed this at the weekly COVID-19 vaccination update in Abuja expressed worries that most countries of the world have received few doses of vaccine and in some cases no vaccines, stressing that this is a problem that needs to be solved urgently.



Shuaib observed that so far after more than three million vaccinations, 13,267 people have experienced mild to moderate side effects, while 4,708 have experienced moderate to severe side effects. He disclosed that NPHCDA is working closely with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) on Adverse Event Following Immunization (AEFI) response.

He said: “There are also other pharmacovigilance measures in place to monitor and respond to AEFI cases throughout the country. Cases of mild, moderate and severe reactions that have been recorded are expected from normal vaccination, and people who experienced any of these have since recovered and are doing well. Therefore, we should not allow the fear of side effects to discourage us from taking the vaccine, as the long term benefits of getting vaccinated far outweigh the risk of brief side effects.”

He warned that full vaccination does not exempt people who have received their second doses of the vaccine from observing the infection prevention and control measures, as it is very important for everyone, including those who have received their second doses, to continue to wear facemasks and observe other non-pharmaceutical measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

Shuaib said that the agency is encouraged by the swell of contributions and pledges from major nations into COVAX, stressing that rich nations of the world are showing greatly increased recognition that there must be more supply and it must be distributed much more fairly, and they are becoming active in solving this.

MEANWHILE, the United States has allocated 55 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Nigeria and 30 other priority countries as part of plans to end the pandemic. The Joe Biden administration had earlier promised to distribute 80 million doses from the U.S. supply, with 25 million doses already allocated.

The allocation plan for the 55 million doses includes 41 million to be shared through COVAX, the global vaccine alliance; about 14 million of the vaccine doses will go to selected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, 16 million in Asia, and 10 million in Africa.

Also 41 million doses will be shared to “regional priorities and other recipients” including Nigeria and about 30 other countries. Five of those are South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Cape Verde and Egypt.



In a fact sheet released on Wednesday, the U.S. stated that its goals remain to “increase global COVID-19 vaccination coverage, prepare for surges and prioritise healthcare workers and other vulnerable populations.”

It stated: “And, as we have previously stated, the United States will not use its vaccines to secure favours from other countries. Sharing millions of U.S. vaccines with other countries signals a major commitment by the U.S. Government,” the fact sheet noted.

“Just like we have in our domestic response, we will move as expeditiously as possible, while abiding by U.S. and host country regulatory and legal requirements, to facilitate the safe and secure transport of vaccines across international borders.

About 2.7 billion shots of the coronavirus vaccines have so far been administered globally including in the U.S. where the vaccination rate is said to be 1.13 million doses per day.

But African countries — such as Nigeria, where just one per cent of the 200 million-plus population, has been vaccinated — have struggled to catch up with the vaccination process. Only 1.6 per cent of the 2.7 billion shots so far administered are in Africa.

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Lagos Assembly moves to end open grazing, considers VAT bill

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The Lagos State House of Assembly says the Prohibition of Open Cattle Grazing Bill, when passed will ensure harmonious relationships between herders and farmers in the state.

The assembly made this known after the bill was read on the floor of the house for the second time, by the Acting Clerk, Olalekan Onafeko, at plenary on Monday.

It said the bill would also protect the environment of the state and the South-west zone.

The House also read for the first and second time, the state’s Value Added Tax (VAT) bill, and asked the Committee on Finance, which was handling it to report back on Thursday.

The Speaker of the House, Mudashiru Obasa, who described the Prohibition of Open Cattle Grazing Bill’ as timely, thereafter, committed the bill to the committee on agriculture for public hearing.

The speaker also suggested that the bill should make provision for the registration of herders, and prepare them for ranching.

“Allocating parcel of land is not enough, but there should also be training for those who will go into ranching, as ranching is expensive and requires adequate preparation,” he added.

VAT

Concerning the VAT bill, the speaker said it would further lead to an increase in revenue and infrastructural development.

”This is in line with fiscal federalism that we have been talking about,” he said.

Mr Obasa said the VAT law, when passed, would help the state meet challenges in its various sectors.

He also urged the Lagos State government to do everything legally possible, to ensure the judgment of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt, was sustained even up to the Supreme Court.

The speaker lamented a situation where about N500 billion would be generated from the state, while N300 billion was generated from other South-west states, but paltry amounts would be disbursed to Lagos State in return.

Mr Obasa said it was an opportunity for the state to emphasise again, the need for the consideration of true federalism.

Speaking earlier on the bill on open grazing, Bisi Yusuff (Alimosho 1) lamented that farmers had continuously become afraid to visit their farms, thus causing shortage of food.

Mr Yusuff also said many farmers had become indebted, as they now found it difficult to pay back loans they secured.

His position was supported by Kehinde Joseph (Alimosho 2) who noted that the bill would ensure peaceful coexistence, reduce crime and help to guide the activities of herders.

Olumoh Lukeman (Ajeromi-Ifelodun 1) suggested that the high court should be made to handle cases from enforcement of the bill when passed, or that the state should establish special courts for such purpose.

Also, Gbolahan Yishawu (Eti-Osa 1) expressed support for the bill, noting that it would give a level of security to the state and help reduce economic losses.

He added that Lagos had 250 hectares of land in Ikorodu and another 750 hectares in Epe for ranching.

David Setonji (Badagry II), said: “There was a time we went on oversight function in a school here in Lagos. We were embarrassed by cattle. We had to wait for the herder to move the cattle before we embarked on our oversight function.”

Mr Setonji suggested a collaboration between the Neighbourhood Safety Corps and the police, in the implementation of the law when passed and assented to.

Other lawmakers who contributed during the plenary were Adedamola Kasunmu (Ikeja II), Rasheed Makinde Ifako Ijaiye II), and Sanni Okanlawon (Kosofe I).

(NAN)

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Ngige: FG to recover millions wrongly paid to 588 doctors

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The federal government says it is planning to recover “millions of naira wrongly paid to 588 medical doctors” across the country.

While fielding questions from state house correspondents, Chris Ngige, minister of labour and employment, said the affected doctors wrongly benefitted from the medical residency training fund meant for a particular category of doctors.

The minister said the names of the doctors were uncovered after a scrutinisation of the 8000 names submitted by chief medical directors of federal government health institutions for the training programme.

Ngige said a substantial amount of the money has been refunded by some of the affected doctors while efforts are being intensified to recover the remaining balance.

He said the delay in making the refund by the affected doctors is holding back the residency fund payment by the government.

“Ministry of health has gotten the list of doctors who supposedly are to benefit from the medical residency training fund,” he said.

“Total submission of about 8000 names were gotten and the ministry of health is scrutinising them.

“We have done the first round of scrutinisation and they will now compare what they have with the Post-Graduate Medical College and the chief medical directors who submitted the names.

“The Association of Resident Doctors, in each of the tertiary centres, worked with the CMDs to produce those names, but now that the names are being verified.

“We discovered that about 2000 names shouldn’t be there because they don’t have what is called Postgraduate Reference Numbers of National Postgraduate Medical College and (or) that of the West African Postgraduate Medical College.

“So, this is it and that is the only thing holding back the residency fund payment because it is there already for incurred expenditure has been done by the finance minister and it’s in the accountant-general’s office.”

“So, once they verify the authenticity of those they are submitting, the Accountant-General will pay.

“We are doing that verification because we do not want what happened last time in 2020 to reoccur.

“In 2020, the submitted names didn’t come through the appropriate source, which is the Postgraduate Medical College and payment was affected and it was discovered that about 588 persons, who were not resident doctors benefited from such money.

“They are now finding it difficult to make the full refund. But they have to refund that money. Some are refunding, but there is no full consideration of the account.

“That account has to be reconciled to enable the accountants pay the next round of funding for 2021.”

The National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) has been on strike for a month over “irregular payment of salaries”, among other issues.

Efforts by stakeholders, including the national assembly, to mediate between the federal government and the resident doctors have not yielded results.

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Insecurity: Kaduna suspends weekly market, bans livestock transportation

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The Kaduna State government has suspended trading at the popular weekly Kawo market.

The order on Thursday came days after the government suspended similar markets in five other local government areas of the state.

Kawo market is one of the largest weekly markets in Kaduna North.

It is located in the same area as the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), the Hassan Usman Katsina House popularly know as State House and the Legislative Quarters.

According to a statement by the state commissioner of Internal Security and Homeland Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, on Thursday, “the Kawo weekly market which usually holds every Tuesday in Kaduna North LGA has been suspended with immediate effect”.

“The Government of Kaduna State wishes to highlight that the previous directives suspending weekly markets, and selling of petrol in jerrycans in Birnin Gwari, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi and Kajuru LGAs, as well as banning the felling of trees for timber, firewood and charcoal and other commercial purposes in Birnin Gwari, Kachia, Kajuru, Giwa, Chikun, Igabi and Kauru LGAs, are still in force.

“Citizens are hereby informed that all these directives will be vigorously enforced by security agencies.”

Also, the statement said the state government banned the transportation of livestock.

“The ban also prohibits the transportation of livestock into Kaduna state from other states. Both bans take effect immediately, from today 2nd September 2021.

“The government also wishes to reiterate that the transportation of donkeys into the state is a criminal offence and anyone found engaging in this will be prosecuted accordingly.”

Kawo Market ban

Many traders who spoke with news men in Kaduna welcomed the suspension of the weekly Kawo market.

Apart from the larger weekly trading, trading also takes place daily among residents of the neighbourhood.

Danladi Bala, a grain transporter, said the state government’s decision to suspend weekly trading in the market is right.

“Yes, we are traders here, but the recent suspension of weekly markets in other local government areas will make the Kawo market the target for criminal activities. They will all come here. It is a wise decision from the government,” he said.

Hajiya Mama, a trader, also said she was not suprised by the announcement.

“I trade in the market, but in the last two weeks we have been witnessing the influx of traders with large commodities.

“With the closure of weekly markets in Zamfara and other part of the state, this market will be an option for good or bad traders,” she said.

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