Covid-19: Closing the door on a global health emergency

07 May, 2023 - 00:05 0 Views
Covid-19: Closing the door on a global health emergency

Roselyne Sachiti

 Assistant Editor 

THE World Health Organisation’s director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week announced that Covid-19 was no longer a public health emergency.

In a media briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, Dr Ghebreyesus, however, cautioned that this did not mean the disease is no longer a threat.

“Last week, Covid-19 claimed a life every three minutes — and that’s just the deaths we know about.

“The decision had not been made lightly. For the past year, the WHO-led emergency committee had been carefully examining the data, on the right time to lower the alarm,” he said.

WHO says the pandemic has been receding over the past 12 months, as immunity has been building up due to the highly effective vaccines developed in record time to fight the disease.

“Death rates have decreased and the pressure on once-overwhelmed health systems has eased.

“This trend has allowed most countries to return to life as we knew it before Covid-19,” added Dr Ghebreyesus.

Relief

The announcement is quite a huge relief, as the emergence of Covid-19 in 2019 rattled countries across the globe, creating a health crisis at a scale that many, especially in the developing world, never imagined.

In Africa, the novel disease did not only test and strain health delivery systems of many countries, it also had a deep-seated societal impact in communities due to extended lockdowns.

At the start of the pandemic, African countries with limited resources had to compete with powerful developed countries to access personal protective equipment (PPE) that were being rolled out in limited quantities from factories across the world.

Zimbabwe was swift in implementing measures to reduce infections and deaths.

After recording its first nine cases and one fatality, the country went into lockdown on March 30, 2020.

President Mnangagwa subsequently launched the country’s US$26 million preparedness and response plan for the coronavirus.

“The national emergency preparedness and response mechanism and surveillance and early detection of any possible cases was activated and will remain active until after the World Health Organisation has removed the global health alert,” he said at the launch of the plan.

“Our preparedness measures have been stepped up through heightened surveillance systems at national, provincial and district levels, with special focus on all ports of entry throughout the country, with mandatory screening of all visitors having already started and all our Government buildings and infrastructure should be screened with immediate effect.”

On February 15, 2021, Zimbabwe received the first batch of 200 000 doses of Sinopharm vaccines donated by China, becoming one of the first African countries to get the life-saving doses.

The vaccines were first used to cover frontline health workers, with the remainder being extended to vulnerable groups, including the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions, according to the country’s vaccine deployment strategy.

In March 2021, the country also authorised the emergency use of four Covid-19 vaccines, including Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s Sinovac and India’s Covaxin.

To expand coverage, Government allowed private businesses to import vaccines for their employees.

In September and early October 2021, Zimbabwe also received 943 200 Covid-19 vaccine doses from the global COVAX Facility.

Success

As a result, Zimbabwe succeeded in managing the pandemic.

Thanks to Government efforts and support from cooperating partners, over 7,2 million Zimbabweans had received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine as at May 4, 2023.

Those considered fully vaccinated, having received two jabs, are now over 5,3 million, while the third jab has been administered to slightly over two million Zimbabweans.

According to the Zimbabwe Covid-19 Situation Report dated May 5, 2023, the country has recorded a cumulative 264 749 Covid-19 cases and 5 688 deaths.

In the SADC region, South Africa had the highest number of cases at 4 063 863 and 102 595 deaths.

Botswana, with a relatively low population, had a cumulative 329 727 cases and 2 801 deaths.

Mozambique recorded 233 098 cases and 2 242 deaths, while Namibia had 171 156 cases and 4 090 deaths.

Zambia had 343 012 cases and 4 055 deaths, with Eswatini recording 74 199 cases and 1 423 deaths.

Lessons

The Covid-19 pandemic was a learning curve for the African continent.

It revealed the glaring shortcomings in the capacity to manufacture vital medicines and health products.

With the continent accounting for only 3 percent of global pharmaceutical manufacturing, between 70 to 80 percent of medicines in Sub-Saharan Africa are imported.

And the sad reality is that Africa manufactures less than 1 percent of the vaccines administered on the continent yet it consumes around 25 percent of the world’s vaccines.

This calls for African countries to mobilise resources to invest in health and skills.

Calls for the continent to also increase investments in local technical resources and institutions, as well as explore innovative financing mechanisms and public-private partnerships, have been made in the past.

Something is now being done.

Heads of State and Government at the African Union Summit in February 2022 agreed to upgrade the AU Covid-19 Response Fund to the Africa Epidemics Fund and to develop a mechanism to ensure replenishment for future pandemic preparedness.

It is also encouraging that initiatives such as the Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM), prepared under the supervision of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), are working to enable African countries to plan, develop and produce more than 60 percent of the total human vaccine doses required on the continent by 2040.

However, going forward, African countries and development partners should continue building action-oriented and sustainable partnerships that promote country ownership and the continent’s health priorities.

For instance, the Africa CDC partnered with the Mastercard Foundation in a US$1,5 billion multi-year grant to bolster response to the Cocid-19 pandemic under the Saving Lives and Livelihoods Programme.

“The Africa CDC has also been at the forefront of the implementation of the New Public Health Order for Africa. Under the New Public Health Order, the CDC is actively tackling health challenges and planning for the future, shaped by local leadership and regional solutions,” said CDC senior science officer Ms Shingai Machingaidze at the launch of Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science in Africa — DELTAS Africa II in March this year.

“It aims to ensure that effective health systems exist before a crisis and remain resilient during and post-crisis.”

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) executive director Mr Itai Rusike said while WHO has declared Covid-19 is no longer a global health emergency, Zimbabweans should continue to exercise caution and remain vigilant.

“We should learn to live with the virus as the new normal for a very long time to come,” he said.

“Our biggest challenge remains the fact that there has been lots of Covid-19 fatigue in most countries and, hence, lots of complacency. But the good thing is that a lot of countries, including Zimbabwe, have also played their part in getting their people vaccinated, resulting in the current decline of Covid-19 cases, hospitalisation and deaths.”

A critical lesson that Africa had learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic, he added, is the need to invest and build its capacity and capabilities to manufacture its own vaccines, strengthen its health systems and prioritise domestic health financing, as well as human resources for health.

 

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