While the number of infections worldwide decreases, in Africa where the difficulties of tracing new cases are immense, many countries are facing the third wave of the pandemic without being in the least prepared. Just think – we read in a joint note by Oxfam ed Emergency – that only in the last week unlike the rest of the world theincidence of new registered infections has grown by 33% per 100 thousand inhabitants, with a + 42% mortality for a total of almost 180 thousand new infected people, who are certainly underestimated due to the difficulties of tracing and diagnosis.
This is the complaint launched today by the two organizations, through the direct testimony of their operators in the field in two exhausted countries such as Uganda and Sudan.
“After the first wave we breathed a sigh of relief, but now what we feared is happening: Covid-19 has exploded in Africa, affecting the fragile health systems of the countries where we work. The continent is experiencing around one million new infections every 68 days. We who live here see the effects of the selfishness of rich countries that have not done everything in their power to start a vaccination campaign capable of really stemming the virus. And now the situation is dramatic“. So Giacomo Menaldo, Country director di Emergency in Uganda e Costanza Barucci, project coordinator of Oxfam Italia in Sudan, tell the reality that is before their eyes every day.
According to the World Health Organization, the variants of Covid-19 are in fact “amplifying and accelerating” the new wave and, without an adequate increase in the supply of vaccines, the continent will not be able to stem its spread. The International Monetary Fund also pointed out that, without international aid, sub-Saharan Africa risks being overwhelmed by continuous new waves of infections in the near future, paralyzing investment, productivity and economic growth.
«In Uganda we are reliving the situation of March 2020 in Europe: at that time the large national hospitals were completely unprepared for mass hospitalization; today in Uganda, hospitals do not have sufficient oxygen for patients and have difficulty in implementing preventive and protective regulations for healthcare staff, which unfortunately is experiencing an increase in infections, “he says Giacomo Menaldo. “Everything falls into a health infrastructure that is weaker than European standards. The situation is so serious that on June 18, President Musuveni decided to issue new rules for a more restrictive lockdown, also tightening penalties for offenders”.
Emergency is a direct witness of the worsening of the situation in Uganda, where in April he opened a pediatric surgery center on the lines of Lake Victoria.
With an average of 816 new positives per day, Uganda was the fifth African country with the highest number of new infections daily for weeks. In the space of a month, the new weekly infections have increased by almost thirty times, going from 366 in the week of 10 May to a peak of 9926 in that of 14 June. More than 79,977 total cases and 1,023 deaths have been reported so far, but the numbers are likely underestimated due to the limited ability of tier one healthcare facilities to carry out a large-scale test campaign.
To try to keep the broadcast under control, the government has imposed a new partial lockdown of 42 days in which schools, places of prayer and markets will remain closed, banned any movement between districts, carried out by both public and private vehicles, and restored the evening curfew starting at 19.
“Unfortunately, the race for private healthcare has already started, with companies, including foreign ones, which have transformed entire hotels into Covid centers that can only be accessed after lavish payments: we have also read about fees of up to $ 3,000 paid from patients to admission, ”continues Menaldo.
Since the beginning of the crisis, Emergency has adopted infection control protocols in all its healthcare facilities, which include staff training, compartmentalization of spaces and separation of dirty-clean flows to reduce the risk of contagion. At the moment, international staff work at the Entebbe Pediatric Surgery Center who has already partially dealt with Covid-19 in Italy during the first wave. “We have proposed to the government to share the experience gained in the past year in the management of Covid and the knowledge of our staff, making them available to local public structures” explains Menaldo. «Uganda was one of the first African countries to impose a very tough lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic, and it seemed that they had managed to keep the contagion under control. But the spread of beta and delta variants in the younger range and a slowed-down vaccination campaign in terms of supply have precipitated the situation ».
The situation remains very critical too in Sudan, country included by the United Nations in the list of the 46 least developed countries in the world. Official data record 36,658 cases and just over 2,750 deaths from the beginning of the pandemic on 43,850 million inhabitants (according to United Nations estimates). Partial numbers that do not at all reflect the real extent of the infection, but are proof of the impossibility of tracing, processing swabs, diagnosing, collecting and analyzing data. It is therefore more essential than ever to immunize the population quickly with the vaccine.
«In all of Sudan there are currently only 110 ventilators in 18 states and the availability of oxygen covers only a small part of the growing needs “, explains Costanza Barucci, project coordinator of Oxfam Italia in Sudan. “Most of the isolation centers monitored by WHO in 15 states do not have adequate sanitation systems. Specialized medical and health personnel are poorly distributed and concentrated only in the main urban areas of the country. An emergency that since the beginning of the pandemic Oxfam has tried to deal with by training health personnel and providing hygiene kits in the health centers of Port Sudan, raising awareness among citizens about the rules to prevent contagion. Now more than ever we need to intensify the response at the international level, first of all by vaccinating as many people as possible ».
The cases of Uganda and Sudan reveal all the weakness of the Covax initiative promoted by WHO to bring Covid-19 vaccines to poor countries. In fact, almost 3.2 million doses have been destined for Uganda, but to date it has only received a little over a million, and administered 937,417: considering that two doses are needed for each person, that means so far about only 1% of the Ugandan population has been vaccinated.
In total Sudan, on the other hand, requested 17 million doses of the vaccine, to cover 8.5 million people with the two necessary doses by the end of 2021. As of June 30, however, just 677,957 doses had been administered.
This means at best, based on the little data available at the moment just over 1.5% of the Sudanese population received the first dose of the vaccine and that if all goes according to Covax’s plans, just over 20% would be immunized by the year. At the moment in Africa just 2.6% of the population was vaccinated with at least one dose, compared with 50.4% of EU citizens.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), a global coalition of organizations and activists that includes Nobel laureates, scientists and religious leaders and of which both Emergency and Oxfam are a part, has long argued that the sharing of patents and know-how is the only solution to vaccinate the entire world population and block variants.
“The suspension of the intellectual property of the patents held by the pharmaceutical giants on Covid vaccines and the transfer of know-how, to make it possible to produce them directly in developing countries, increasing the doses available globally remains the only real way to defeat the pandemic ”, they conclude Sara Albiani, Oxfam Italia global health policy advisor e Rossella Miccio, president of Emergency. “The system of donations of doses from rich countries to poor countries and the Covax initiative will not stop the pandemic and in the meantime hundreds of thousands of people will still die. For this we strongly re-launch the call to Italy and the European Union to take a stand to make vaccines a global public good following the example of the United States and France and supporting the patent suspension requested within the World Trade Organization: if at least 60% immunization is not achieved globally by the end of the year, the variants of the virus could take over “.
Opening photo by Marcello Bonfanti – Emergency Press Office