The federal government has raised the alarm over a possible uptick in Covid-19 cases, propelled by a spread of the new Delta variant of the virus recently discovered in the country.
Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, who made a presentation at a virtual meeting held by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the country’s preparations against the third wave of COVID19, expressed worry that Nigeria had witnessed an increase in the number of new cases of Covid-19 in the last two weeks.
The Minister’s worry came just as Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said yesterday that it had confirmed 238 new cases of Covid-19 in the country.
But the Regional Director for Africa, World Health Organisation (WHO), Matshidiso Moeti, had disclosed that about 60 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccines were set to arrive Africa in the coming weeks from the United States of America, Team Europe, the United Kingdom, and other partners through the COVAX facility.
However, speaking during a meeting with the leadership of the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment in Abuja, Ehanire said: “Covid-19 Delta variant is already entering Africa. It has been observed in several countries. In fact, has been identified in Nigeria and is sweeping across the globe now. It is a strong warning that we should all be careful.
“Even those countries where they have done vaccination are trembling how much more the ones like us that have not done much. UK has done two dose of 70 per cent of her population yet they are having one of their highest spike in Covid-19 pandemic right now, the same with the United States. Those of us that have only done two per cent are very worried about the situation”.
Earlier, in his presentation to the WHO, Ehanire said the world had begun to see a pandemic of two tracks, where the Delta variant was tearing through unvaccinated populations.
“We witnessed the unfortunate surge in cases in India a few months ago and a similar surge is now being seen in most African countries. In Nigeria, the Delta variant was first detected two weeks ago, and we have begun to see an increase in the number of new cases,” he said.
On the challenges faced by the country in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, Ehanire said Nigeria has had to contend with relatively weak health systems and the inequities in distribution of Covid-19 response tools, ranging from Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and reagents at onset, to vaccines at present.
He said Nigeria received just over 4 million AZ doses to start with, from the COVAX facility and government of India and started deployment early, according to WHO recommendations for Health workers and vulnerable populations, vaccines received EUA from NAFDAC.
According to the Minister, the vaccine deployment lead agency, National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA), had relied on its vast experience on routine immunisation, having recently concluded Polio eradication campaign.
He explained that the agency used ICT tools for a smooth roll-out, adding that infrastructure, especially, cold chain, and precise distribution plan were ready well before the vaccines arrived.
“We have expended all vaccines, with 126% of target population of just over 2 million people receiving first dose and 70% receiving second doses. Less than 2% of target 112 million population has been reached, to reach herd immunity of 70%. Efficient data management and monitoring was performed for AEFI,” he said.
On the expected vaccines, Moeti reiterated that only 20 million Africans, or 1.5 per cent of the continent’s population, had been fully vaccinated so far and that 1.7 per cent of the 3.7 billion doses given globally had been administered in Africa
He made stated this on Thursday during an online press briefing on COVID-19 in Africa on Thursday, where she said no one should be under any illusion that Africa’s third wave was over.
“This small step forward offers hope and inspiration but must not mask the big picture for Africa. Many countries are still at peak risk and Africa’s third wave surged up faster and higher than ever before.
She said that the new COVID-19 case numbers in Africa fell by 1.7 per cent to nearly 282,000 in the week ending July 18.
According to her, the continent experienced an unbroken nine-week surge, excluding data from South Africa, which accounted for 37 per cent of these cases, adding that the current peak was 80 per cent higher than Africa’s previous peak, excluding data from South Africa.
She explained that without the data from South Africa, cases rose in Africa by 18 per cent to over 182 000 in the week ending on July 18.
“The Sallah celebrations, which we marked this week may also result in a rise in cases. We must all double down on prevention measures to build on these fragile gains,” she said.
Meoti stated further that 21 African countries had seen cases rise by over 20 per cent for at least two weeks running, adding that the highly transmissible Delta variant had been found in 26 African countries.
According to her, the Alpha variant was in 38 countries and Beta was in 35, and that South Africa’s gains remained uncertain as protests had disrupted the country’s response, including disease surveillance and testing.
She explained that mass gatherings in the country could also trigger another rise in cases.
“A massive influx of doses means that Africa must go all out and speed up the vaccine rollout by five to six times if we are to get all these doses into arms and fully vaccinate the most vulnerable 10 per cent of all Africans by the end of September.
“Nearly 70 per cent of African countries will not reach the 10 per cent vaccination target for all countries by the end of September at the current pace.
“Around 3.5 million to four million doses are administered weekly on the continent, but to meet the September target this must rise to 21 million doses at the very least each week,” she said.