The World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, said only 27 per cent of African health workers had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
A preliminary analysis by the global agency, unveiled during a virtual press conference, facilitated by APO Group, said the low coverage could be as a result of the availability of vaccination services, especially in rural areas, and vaccine hesitancy.
According to WHO, concerns over vaccine safety have been identified as the main reasons for the hesitancy. Health workers are key sources of information for the population and their attitude could influence vaccine uptake.
The document, which captured data from 25 countries, observed that since March this year, 1.3 million health workers were fully vaccinated, with just six nations scoring over 90 per cent, while nine others have fully vaccinated less than 40 per cent.
In sharp contrast, a recent WHO global study of 22 mostly high-income countries reported that above 80 per cent of their health and care workers are fully vaccinated.
WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, noted: “With a new surge in cases looming over Africa following the end-of-year festive season, countries must urgently speed up the rollout of vaccines to healthcare workers.
“The majority of Africa’s health workers are still missing out on vaccines and remain dangerously exposed to severe COVID-19 infection. Unless our doctors, nurses and other frontline workers get full protection, we risk a blowback in efforts to curb this disease. We must ensure our health facilities are safe working environment.”
She said it was important to have high vaccine coverage among health workers, not only for their own protection but also for their patients and to ensure healthcare systems keep operating during a time of extreme need.
According to the global agency, Africa’s shortage of health workers is acute and profound, with only one country in the region having the required manpower (10.9 per 1,000 population) to deliver essential services.
Sixteen countries in the zone have less than one health worker per 1,000 population. Any loss of these essential workers to COVID-19 due to illness or death, therefore, heavily impacts on service provision capacity.
Based on data reported to WHO by countries in the African Region, since March 2020, there have been more than 150,400 COVID-19 infections among health workers, accounting for 2.5 per cent of all confirmed cases and 2.6 per cent of the total health workforce in the region.
Five nations, namely Algeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe, account for about 70 per cent of all the COVID-19 infections reported among health workers on the continent.