WHO - World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa

11/25/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 11/25/2021 05:17

Opening statement, COVID-19 Press Conference, 25 November 2021

Submitted by [email protected]on Thu, 25/11/2021 - 11:57

Remarks by WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti

Good morning and good afternoon, bonjour, and welcome to all the journalists joining this press conference about COVID-19 and Africa's health workers.

I am very pleased to be joined by Dr Apetsianyi Yawa, the Coordinator of the Technical Working Group for the Deployment of COVID-19 vaccines of Togo, bonjour et bienvenue Dr Yawa, who will speak about Togo's success in rolling out COVID-19 vaccines to health workers. I believe we will also be joined by Mr Michael Ekuma Nnachi, who's the National President of Nigeria's National Association of Nurses and Midwives, and he will provide a perspective on the challenges that health workers face in terms of COVID-19 vaccination. Again, bonjour, good morning, afternoon and welcome to both of you.

There have now been more than 8.6 million cases of COVID-19, and about 221 000 reported lives lost due to the pandemic in Africa.

While new cases have plateaued in the last two weeks, following a peak in August, Africa must remain on high alert as we see cases rising across Europe. We are also about to start the end-of-year travel season and gatherings and celebration which triggered a surge last December.

We are already seeing an uptick in new cases in Southern Africa, with a 48% jump in new cases, compared with the preceding week. This comes after 18 weeks of sustained decline, with the increase driven mainly by a spike in cases in South Africa.

We know that vaccination is our best defence. But while many high-income countries report more than 60% vaccine coverage, just over 7% of Africa's population is fully vaccinated - in spite of a rise in shipments of doses to the continent recently.

Crucially, preliminary analysis finds the majority of health workers are not benefiting from optimal protection, leaving them dangerously exposed to severe COVID-19 infection. This puts at risk not only their own health and wellbeing, but also that of the patients they look after.

The WHO analysis, based on data from 25 countries in Africa, finds that only just more than one in four health workers - or 27% - are fully protected. Meanwhile, a recent WHO global study of 22 mostly high-income countries reported that over 80% of their health workers are fully vaccinated.

The risk of health worker infection increases whenever cases surge, and with a fourth wave looming, countries must urgently speed up the rollout of vaccines to those on the front lines.

While the continent is gradually overcoming vaccine supply constraints, it is critical to fix other issues. The low coverage among health workers is partly due to the unavailability of vaccination services, especially in rural areas.

Vaccine hesitancy is also a challenge. Recent studies found that only 40% of health workers intended to receive the vaccine in Ghana, and less than 50% in Ethiopia. Concerns over vaccine safety and adverse side-effects have been identified as the main reasons for their hesitancy.

As WHO, we are supporting national efforts to escalate health worker vaccination by coordinating trainings and dialogue around vaccine safety and efficacy to also help address any doubts or misconceptions, as well as advocating for open and honest communication about the benefits and side-effects of vaccination.

But we also appeal to all the relevant professional unions and associations to assist us, by focusing on enlightening their members about the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

In Cote d'Ivoire, for instance, WHO is supporting that country's Paediatrician's Association with sensitization and training interventions, the most recent of which took place on the 18th of November. In Ghana, we have supported advocacy drives by the Ghana Academy of Arts & Sciences and collaborated with the Ministry of Health to engage a range of professional organizations, including the Health Services Works Union, the Ghana Registered Nurses Association and the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana.

Health workers are ensuring that our hospitals, clinics and community health centres keep their doors open, not only for COVID-19, but to manage a wide range of other health challenges.

Africa already suffers from a shortage of health workers; only one country in the African Region, the Seychelles has the requisite 10.9 health workers per 1000 people to deliver essential health services, while 16 others have just one health worker for the same number of patients.

The countries with the lowest health worker-population ratio include Benin, the Central African Republic, Chad, Madagascar and Niger.

Therefore, even one unnecessary COVID-19 infection is one too many among our health workers.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all our dedicated nurses, doctors, laboratory technicians, cleaners and community health workers for their invaluable contributions, and to encourage them all to get vaccinated as soon as doses become available.

Welcome again to this press conference and I look forward very much to today's discussion.