By: WHO Media
Preliminary analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that only 27% of health workers in Africa have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, leaving the bulk of the workforce on the frontlines against the pandemic unprotected.
Analysis of data reported from 25 countries finds that since March 2021, 1.3 million health workers were fully vaccinated, with just six countries reaching more than 90%, while nine countries have fully vaccinated less than 40%. In sharp contrast, a recent WHO global study of 22 mostly high-income countries reported that above 80% of their health and care workers are fully vaccinated.
“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 the efforts to curb this disease. We must ensure our health facilities are safe working environments,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
It is important to have high vaccine coverage among health workers not only for their own protection but also for their patients and to ensure health care systems keep operating during a time of extreme need.
Africa’s shortage of health workers is acute and profound, with only one country in the region having the required health workers (10.9 per 1000 population) to deliver essential health services. Sixteen countries in the region have less than one health worker per 1000 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 in health workers, accounting for 2.5% of all confirmed cases and 2.6% of the total health work force in the region. Five countries account for about 70% of all the COVID-19 infections reported in health workers: Algeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
After almost four months of a sustained decline, COVID-19 cases in the general population in Africa have plateaued. For the first time since the third wave peak in August, cases in Southern Africa have increased, jumping 48% in the week ending on 21 November compared with the previous week.
The risk of health worker infection rises whenever cases surge. This is a pattern that has been observed during the previous three waves of the pandemic. With a fourth wave likely to hit after the end-of-year travel season, health workers will again face risks amid low vaccination coverage.
To date, more than 227 million vaccine doses have been administered in Africa. In 39 countries which provided data, 3.9 million doses have been given to health workers.
“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 health care workers,” said Dr Moeti.