Most countries in Africa have made significant gains in vaccinating two vulnerable groups against COVID-19, but new infections are creeping upward as summer travel begins and some countries ease public health measures, the World Health Organization said Thursday.
About half of public health workers and people older than 60 have been fully vaccinated in 31 countries in the agency’s Africa region, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s regional director, said at a news conference. Moeti described that as an “impressive turnaround” since the end of 2021, when just one-third of health workers and 10% of older people had been fully inoculated.
The WHO has predicted a sharp reduction in the number of COVID-19 deaths this year in its 48-nation Africa region, which covers most of the continent.
The “marginal increase” in new infections last week ended a period of sustained decline, Moeti said.
But vaccination rates remain below 10% in 14 African countries, she said, adding: “If these countries are at risk, we are all at risk.”
The encouraging news about COVID-19 was tempered, however, by warnings about the spread of monkeypox, a viral disease that previously was rarely seen outside a few countries in central and western Africa. The 1,900 confirmed cases in the current outbreak are spread across 39 countries, eight of them in Africa, Moeti said.
Nigeria has reported 36 confirmed cases, with smaller numbers in Congo, the Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Ghana, Cameroon, Benin and Morocco. There are suspected cases in some others.
Far more cases have been found in Europe, the epicenter of the current outbreak, where more than 1,500 cases have been confirmed in 25 European countries. Cases have also been confirmed in the United States.
Moeti noted that two of the African countries with confirmed recent cases — Ghana and Morocco — had never previously reported monkeypox. “This is clearly an unusual situation that is affecting more and more countries,” she said.
Unlike the coronavirus, the monkeypox virus is not known to linger in the air; it spreads mainly through direct contact with bodily fluids or sores of an infected person or animal.
The WHO emergency committee is expected to meet next week to decide whether the monkeypox outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, a formal declaration that could trigger a coordinated response between countries.
In Africa, its officials say they are procuring tests and urging governments to step up testing for the disease.
“So soon after the inequities Africa experienced in respect of the COVID-19 response, we recognize we can’t afford any potential repeat,” Moeti said. “We need to be adequately prepared.”
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