Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has made an urgent call for the provision of vaccines to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in Southern Africa.
The organisation said healthcare workers have been struggling for vaccines since the new, more contagious strain of COVID-19 was discovered in Southern Africa, calling for a quick provision for patients, healthcare workers and those at high risk.
“Health workers in Mozambique, Eswatini and Malawi are struggling to treat escalating numbers of patients with little prospect of a vaccine to protect them from the virus,” the organisation said.
“International medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls for COVID-19 vaccines to be distributed equitably, prioritising and protecting frontline health workers and people at highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 in all countries, including in Africa.”
Christine Jamet, MSF’s director of operations, expressed how appalled the organisation was on the current distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, saying it was unequal, citing how wealthier countries have already started giving vaccines to frontline workers about two months ago.
“People in the poorest countries seem to be at the back of the queue to access this crucial vaccine,” Jamet added.
“There is an urgent need for vaccination in countries in Southern African that are struggling to respond to the aggressive spread of the new virus strain, which is overwhelming their health systems.”
“In Eswatini, a country of 1.1 million people, 200 new cases are being reported each day and deaths are around four times higher than in the first wave, with health workers saying that patients are becoming more severely sick this time around.”
The MSF has set up tented wards in Nhlangano in Estawini and has also brought more doctors and nurses to provide medical care to COVID-19 critical patients.
Similarly, in Mozambique, the number of cases is almost seven times higher than during the peak of the first wave, while in Malawi, cases have increased rapidly in Jan. with numbers doubling every four to five days, according to MSF.
“While Mozambique, Eswatini and Malawi go without vaccines, wealthier nations are hoarding vaccines with the intention to vaccinate beyond the priority groups,” the organisation said.
Marion Pecharye, the MSF’s head of mission in Malawi, said that if 40,000 doses were made available to the country, medical staff in hotspots could be vaccinated first.
“So far, 1,298 frontline health workers in Malawi have tested positive for COVID-19 and nine have died,” she said.
Jamet also urged governments that have secured more than the required doses for their populations to share with other countries to enable them to begin the vaccine rollout and manufacturers to see that countries in urgent need of the vaccines are equally prioritised.
“This totally goes against the World Health Organization’s equitable allocation framework. Not only will it prolong the pandemic, but it will put even more lives at risk,” MSF director of operations, Isabelle Defourny added.
“MSF stands ready to provide logistical support to high priority countries that were denied access to Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine through COVAX because of their limited cold chain management capacity.”