Key health services in Africa disrupted by pandemic: WHO chief


Addis Ababa (AFP)

The coronavirus pandemic has affected key health services including malaria and HIV treatment programmes across Africa and could undo "decades of progress", the head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

"Many essential services have been either partially or completely disrupted," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual conference hosted by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

"Disruption to other services such as vaccination campaigns and care for malaria and HIV threatens to unwind decades of progress," he said.

Africa has been hit less hard then other regions by the pandemic, but Tedros noted that new cases on the continent are "increasing fast".

As of Wednesday evening, there were 326,236 cases reported across the continent and 8,642 deaths, according to an Africa CDC tally.

In many countries testing has been extremely limited, but Tedros said Wednesday that all African countries can now conduct their own tests.

"As of yesterday all countries on the continent now have lab testing capacity for COVID-19," he said, speaking at a two-day virtual conference focused on ensuring that African countries have access to an eventual coronavirus vaccine.

"A fair and equitable allocation process for vaccines is needed to ensure that the limited initial supply is deployed where it's most needed within and across all countries," Tedros said, adding that priority should go to health workers and "those at most risk of death".

There are more than 220 vaccine candidates currently in development, he said.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the current chair of the African Union, said he hoped the conference would produce a road map for officials to ensure any vaccines that prove successful can be produced in Africa.

"It is essential that there be significant local vaccine manufacturing on our continent," he said.

The Africa CDC has previously complained of being "elbowed out" in the global scramble for COVID-19 testing kits and personal protective equipment.

Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong said this should not be allowed to happen once a vaccine becomes available.

"Unless we act now Africa is at risk of being left behind," he said.