COVID-19: Africa Must Act Now To Stop Surge Of New Delta Variant – IMF

COVID-19: Africa Must Act Now To Stop Surge Of New Delta Variant – IMF
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The only way for Sub-Saharan Africa to break free from the new vicious COVID-19 pandemic cycle is to swiftly implement a widespread vaccination programme, top executives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have advised.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is in the grips of a third wave of COVID-19 infections that threaten to be even more brutal than the two that came before,” said IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, and the Fund’s Africa Department Director, Aemro Selassie, in a new blog published late Monday.

The growth of infections in sub-Saharan Africa is now the fastest in the world, with an explosive trajectory that is outpacing the record set in the second wave.

“At this pace,” the two officials have warned, “this new wave will likely surpass previous peaks in a matter of days—and in some countries, infections are already more than double, or even triple, their January peaks.”

The latest ‘Delta’ variant—reportedly 60 percent more transmissible than earlier variants—has been detected in 14 countries.

When the pandemic first hit, quick action by policymakers in Africa helped prevent infection rates seen elsewhere around the world. But it pushed already strained local health systems to breaking point.

Only six months after the initial crisis, the region experienced a second wave that swiftly outpaced the scale and speed of the first. Now, another six months on, sub-Saharan Africa faces its third devastating wave.

Ms. Giorgieva and Mr. Abebe view the sheer speed of this third wave, highlighting the difficulty policymakers in sub‑Saharan Africa face in heading off a crisis once it gets under way.

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In Namibia, for example, they said new cases reached the previous January peak within only two weeks, and tripled another two weeks later. For many countries, by the time a new surge is identified, it may already be too late.

They have written that the options employed during previous waves may no longer be feasible. The re-imposition of containment measures would likely come at too high an economic and social cost, and is simply unsustainable—and unenforceable—over a prolonged period.

Looking back, most sub-Saharan African countries entered the second wave in a more difficult economic position than the first, with shrinking fiscal resources to protect the vulnerable, additional millions thrown into poverty, and depleted household balance sheets.

While some countries have taken steps to improve preparedness, unfortunately, very few have had sufficient resources—or time—to strengthen public health systems.

The scale of the current wave is once again threatening to overwhelm local health systems. News reports across the region point to overwhelmed hospitals. The sick are dying while waiting for a bed. Non-emergency surgeries have been cancelled to preserve space for COVID-19 patients.

And military hospitals have been opened for civilian use. Oxygen has become a key constraint, with supply already failing to keep up with the demand for critically-ill patients. The region’s scarce health workers continue to be at risk.

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The IMF officials say the vaccine rollout in sub-Saharan Africa remains the slowest in the world. Less than one adult in every hundred is fully vaccinated, compared to an average of over 30 in more advanced economies.

“This means even most essential frontline workers continue to work unprotected. In this context, some of the world’s more fortunate countries have stockpiled enough vaccines to cover their populations many times over,” said the IMF bloggers.

“Without significant, upfront, international assistance—and without an effective region-wide vaccination effort—the near-term future of sub-Saharan Africa will be one of repeated waves of infection, which will exact an ever-increasing toll on the lives and livelihoods of the region’s most vulnerable, while also paralyzing investment, productivity, and growth. In short, without help the region risks being left further and further behind,” they warned.

And the longer the pandemic is left to ravage Africa, the more likely it is that ever more dangerous variants of the disease will emerge. Vaccination is not simply an issue of local lives and livelihoods. It is also a global public good. For every country—everywhere—the most durable vaccine effort is one that covers everyone, in every country.

IMF staff has put forward a global proposal that targets vaccinating at least 40 percent of the total population of all countries by end-2021, and at least 60 percent by the first half of 2022.

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Africa is expected to receive 30 percent vaccination coverage through COVAX and another 30 percent coverage through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT), established by the African Union under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa..

Georgieva and Abebe have identified seven key steps to ensure these vaccination targets are met:

First, it is essential to deliver vaccines to sub‑Saharan Africa as soon as possible. Given that much of the global supply of vaccines for 2021 has already been bought up, many countries will be forced to wait until 2022 to get them. So, the fastest way to get vaccines to sub‑Saharan Africa is for advanced economies to share their stockpiles bilaterally or through multilateral initiatives. COVAX has already received pledges for over half a billion doses. But these need to turn into actual deliveries as soon as possible to make a difference. Indeed, the goal should be to get a quarter of a billion doses to the region by September.


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