A report from the Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19 (PERC), a public-private partnership coordinated by Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, finds that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the African continent has been underestimated and calls for urgent action to address the threat of new variants of the virus and limited vaccine availability.
Based on a survey conducted in February of approximately twenty-four thousand people in nineteen African Union member states, the report, Responding to COVID-19 in Africa: Finding the Balance Part III: Calls to Action, found that limitations in testing capacity and surveillance leading to shortfalls in case detection and reporting have resulted in a significant underestimation of the spread of COVID-19 on the continent. The third in a series of studies conducted since March 2020, the survey also found that 81 percent of respondents reported facing challenges in accessing food, while 77 percent had experienced income loss and 42 percent had missed medical appointments since the start of the pandemic. The pandemic and measures to contain it also prevented many people from accessing essential health services, threatening to reverse the hard-won gains in expanding healthcare access and addressing food insecurity on the continent. Only 13 percent of all respondents reported receiving any support from the government in the past month, ranging from 44 percent in Ghana to less than 5 percent in Cameroon, Kenya, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Mozambique.
The report also found that while the self-reported use of masks to slow the spread of the virus remained encouragingly high overall, at above 85 percent, it varied considerably by country, while rates of adherence to the most restrictive public health and social-distancing measures were down slightly from the previous survey in August. And while 67 percent of all respondents said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated when COVID-19 vaccines become available, rates varied widely, from 35 percent in Cameroon and Tunisia to 91 percent in Morocco. The most commonly cited reason for vaccine hesitancy was not having enough information about the vaccines to make a decision (31 percent).
To address these gaps, the report calls for targeting specific public health measures to high-risk populations, increasing surveillance of new COVID variants, prioritizing vaccination of healthcare workers, and scaling actions to increase vaccine production, ensure their equitable allocation, and share technological expertise to facilitate local vaccine manufacturing in African countries.
“Vaccine hesitancy is driven by high levels of disinformation, misinformation, and lack of information, which erodes trust in the safety and efficacy of vaccines,” said Richard Mihigo, program coordinator for immunization and vaccine development at the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for Africa. “Going forward, we must prioritize sustained and targeted campaigns which address the growing infodemic around vaccines while providing evidence-based information to dispel myths and build confidence in vaccines. Communication and engagement is key to building trust and creating a positive discourse around vaccines from the ground up.”