NAIROBI, KENYA – By any measure, the number of those being vaccinated against COVID-19 in Africa are running behind the rest of the world. Health experts warn that failure to inoculate the 1.3 billion people on the continent will have a huge impact on its health care systems and economies.
More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, most African countries have vaccinated only a tiny fraction of their populations.
Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, has fully vaccinated just 0.1% of its citizens.
The Africa Center for Disease Control says three countries — Tanzania, Burundi, Eritrea — and the self-declared Sahrawi Republic have yet to receive any vaccines, while Burkina Faso has received 115,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine but has not yet administered a single jab.
Abdhalah Ziraba, an epidemiologist and the head of the health system at the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, says the failure to inoculate is partly due to vaccine hesitancy among the population, and underdeveloped health care systems, especially in non-urban areas.
“In Africa, most people live in rural areas. The health care system that should be the system to deliver the vaccines to the last person is not as elaborate as the population is distributed. So, people are far away from where they can get access to vaccines, and as a consequence, they are definitely left out, but they remain at risk of getting exposed to COVID-19,” Zariba said.
Kenya has fully vaccinated just 13,000 people out of a population of 50 million, although about 1 million have received one dose of a vaccine.
Davji Atellah, the secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union, calls for the government to allocate 1% of the country’s budget to purchase COVID-19 vaccines.
“Countries like Uganda, or here in Kenya, we can still see there are waves, there is a surge in infections. So, the ultimate way to get things back to normal is to vaccinate. That’s why we are asking the government, if our current budget is 3.6 trillion Kenya shillings. If 1%, that’s about 35 billion shillings ($324.4 million) is put into buying the vaccines for the Kenyans, then we may have hope to see the opening up.” Atellah said.
Kenya’s western region has been witnessing high rates of coronavirus infections in recent weeks, and officials have warned they may have to impose a new lockdown to curb transmissions.
In neighboring Uganda, the government recently reintroduced a strict lockdown to fight an increase in infections. The lockdown includes the shutting down of schools and religious activities, and imposing travel bans within the country.
Ziraba said African countries’ failure to vaccinate their population will disrupt everyday life and will pose a problem to the rest of the world.
“It will be a cascade that will be very disruptive to the African countries’ economies and health care system. But the rest of the world will not sit pretty because while a big part of their population will be protected, they will not be comfortable knowing that there will be a new infection coming to their borders every now and then,” Ziraba said.
Overall, Africa has recorded about 5 million cases of COVID-19 and 133,000 deaths.