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Rome-based Catholic Entity Decries Low COVID-19 Uptake in Africa, Highlights Interventions

A poster announcing the 27 September 2021 conference organized by the Rome-based Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Credit: Harambee Africa International

The leadership of Harambee Africa International, the Rome-based international Catholic association established to enhance various realities in Sub-Saharan Africa, has decried the low uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among African countries, warning that the trend puts the whole world at risk of a protracted pandemic.

WHO statistics of Wednesday, October 6 indicate that 6.4 billion people had been vaccinated globally, with only South Africa and Morocco appearing in the top 40 countries with the most vaccinations.

At a virtual event that was organized by the Rome-based Pontifical University of the Holy Cross end of last month, the Projects Manager of Harambee Africa, Linda Corbi, made reference to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics that indicates that Africa accounts for a paltry 1.4 percent of COVID-19 vaccine doses distributed worldwide.

Credit: Screenshot from Youtube channel of Rome Reports 27 September 2021.

Highlighting the need for developed countries to support developing ones in the fight against COVID-19, Ms. Corbi warned that Africa, for instance, could easily become a “hotbed for variants of coronavirus” if left unguarded.

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“International interests in Africa should be motivated by the fact that if left to its own devices, this continent could become a giant hotbed for variants of coronaviruses,” the official of Harambee Africa said during the event streamed live on September 27.

Other institutions behind the event that was organized under the theme, “Vaccines for Everyone: From Words to Actions”, were SOMOS Community Care which reaches out to New York’s underserved Hispanic immigrants and Rome Reports News Television Agency and Caritas Internationalis.

Harambee, which in Swahili means “working together to achieve something”, is an international project with a presence in Benin, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Togo and Uganda where it collaborates with educational, health or assistance projects, promoted and carried out by Africans themselves in their respective countries.

Established in 2002 on the occasion of the canonization of the founder of Opus Dei, Josemaria Escrivá, Harambee Africa International has two main lines of actions: strengthening the capacity of human resources in African countries through partnerships in implementing initiatives; and deepening knowledge about Africa in view of overcoming stereotypes about Africans and Africa.

The institution’s committees operate in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Poland and the United States.

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Credit: Screenshot from Youtube channel of Rome Reports 27 September 2021.

During the September 27 virtual event, Ms. Corbi called on high income countries to commit to provide at least one billion doses to 92 low- and middle-income countries such as those in Africa by May 2022.

She also appealed to major vaccine producing countries and companies under WHO and the World Trade Organization to agree in licensing production and technology transfer so as to tackle any further virus mutations in Africa. 

The Projects Manager of Harambee Africa noted that COVAX, an initiative formed to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, aimed to provide 600 million doses, enough to vaccinate at least 20 percent of the population.

Credit: Screenshot from Youtube channel of Rome Reports 27 September 2021.

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However, she said, progress is slow in Africa due to a financing deficit on the part of governments, among other factors.

Other factors that the official of Harambee Africa highlighted included what she referred to as systemic weakness of the continent’s health system, a defective supply chain mechanism and lack of structures to ensure that the most vulnerable populations are first to be vaccinated.

Credit: Screenshot from Youtube channel of Rome Reports 27 September 2021.

She said that governments’ selection of centers for COVID-19 testing and treatment to limit contagion led to crowding in hospitals that had to reject people. There were also long queues for tests and serious delays in delivering results, Ms. Corbi said.

Harambee Africa has provided health support to medical centers in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and DRC amid COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Ms. Corbi cited the case of Walé Health Centre in Yamoussoukro in Ivory Coast, a small medical facility, which she said was totally unprepared for COVID-19 when the pandemic struck.

Credit: Screenshot from Youtube channel of Rome Reports 27 September 2021.

Harambee Africa provided detective kits for staff, a car to start a homecare program to prevent ill people from moving around, among other services to the health facility.

Narrating the situation of the Ivorian health facility, Ms. Corbi said, “Here again, COVID-19 demonstrated the limits of the health system in terms of the unprepared staff, delays in delivering results, crowding of patients, among others. As far as I know, there are only four functioning intensive care units in the country.”

In Nigeria, Harambee Africa collaborated with Niger Hospital where the organization supplied personal protective equipment to staff and is planning to buy additional laboratory equipment, ventilators and set up an oxygen producing plant. 

Credit: Screenshot from Youtube channel of Rome Reports 27 September 2021.

In the West African country, the Projects Manager of Harambee Africa said, it is impossible to know the real number of people infected because people hide their symptoms so as not to be isolated from their families.

In Nigeria, she further said, there is also a common attitude of skepticism and mistrust of institutions as well as fear of consequences of the vaccine in the long term.

“In fact, life is going on normally; the pandemic hasn’t worried the population too much,” Ms. Corbi said.

In DRC, the organization is supporting Monkole Hospital in Kinshasa. According to the official of Harambee Africa, the Congolese government named the health facility a COVI-19 referral hospital, promising to finance it after a top State official was treated for COVID-19 there.

Credit: Screenshot from Youtube channel of Rome Reports 27 September 2021.

The government financial support to the hospital was, however, slow, Ms. Corbi noted, and explained, “Technical skills among staff was limited; no one knew how to intubate a patient.”

“Additionally, there are no or very few intensive care units at the hospital in Congo and the whole country has only 10 respirators, all concentrated in Kinshasa,” the official said, adding that the current priority of Harambee Africa is to modernize and upgrade the oxygen supply system for the hospital and for other hospitals in the Central African nation. 

Harambee Africa has also linked the slow uptake of vaccines in African countries to delays and disorganizations.

In some cases, Ms. Corbi said, vaccines have either not been used or doses have been delivered at the limit of their expired date. 

Credit: Screenshot from Youtube channel of Rome Reports 27 September 2021.

Additionally, populations go with the idea that the vaccination has been useless, she said, adding that in most instances, the people have other problems they consider to be bigger than COVID-19. 

“The economy is a big issue for the people,” Ms. Corbi said, and added, “Small markets and businesses have been burnt; schools have been closed, leaving children alone in the streets. The bigger emergency for people is poverty, the lack of work, hunger more than COVID-19, which is a lesser threat compared to other diseases such as malaria, HIV, TB among others.”