While we in the United States are seeing hope that the COVID-19 pandemic is waning throughout the country – particularly in states with high vaccination rates – sadly, that is not the case in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
And today it is with heavy hearts that we at Bread and Water for Africa® report that at the Kabwata Orphanage and Transit Centre in Zambia that 43 children and youth – more than two-thirds of the 64 living there – have contracted coronavirus, several who were already battling underlying illnesses.
We have also learned from our longtime partner, Kabwata founder and director Angela Miyanda, that some of the orphanage’s caretakers have also contracted the virus.
If there is any “silver lining” to this unsettling news, it’s that there have been no reports of deaths at Kabwata due to COVID-19, and we hope and pray there will not be.
These children and staff did not contract the virus because of a refusal to take a vaccine; they contracted it because of a dire lack of the availability of vaccines in Zambia and countries throughout the continent.
“There are growing concerns that supply shortages in many African countries are holding back the continuing rollout of their vaccination programs,” the BBC reported on June 22. “The World Health Organization says a large number of poorer countries relying on the global vaccine sharing scheme COVAX do not have enough doses to continue vaccinating.”
The United Nations and the Africa Centres for Disease Control have already urged countries with surplus supplies to donate them to parts of Africa where they’re needed, according to the BBC.
Most African countries have gotten their vaccines through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (abbreviated as COVAX), which is a worldwide initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines directed by WHO and other entities.
To make the situation worse, most of the vaccines were sourced from the Serum Institute of India. However, India halted vaccine exports in response to its own urgent needs, and manufacturers faced issues with ramping up production in a short space of time, according to the BBC.
The WHO says Africa needs 200 million doses to vaccinate 10 percent of its population by September this year.
“As supplies dry up, dose-sharing is an urgent, critical and short-term solution to ensuring that Africans at the greatest risk of COVID-19 get the much-needed protection,” says Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for WHO in Africa.
At present, less than 1 percent of Africa’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to the BBC, which also reported that “In Africa, only about two doses of vaccine have been administered per 100 people, compared with an average of 68 doses per 100 in high-income countries.”
The WHO says Africa needs 200 million doses to vaccinate 10 percent of its population by September.
But the slow rate of vaccinations is caused partly by issues around distributing the vaccines, such as the lack of health infrastructure and staff, according to BBC.
“While we call for vaccine equity, Africa must also knuckle down and make the best of what we have,” said Moeti.
However, a glimmer of good news is that “Africa’s largest-ever immunization drive is underway and COVID-19 vaccines have now been given in almost all African countries,” states the WHO. “With a fast-moving pandemic, no-one is safe until everyone is made safe by vaccination, and as countries around the world procure vaccines Africa must not be left behind.”
At Bread and Water for Africa®, while of course we lack the ability to provide our childcare and healthcare partners with actual vaccines, we do, as we have been doing for decades, have the ability to provide orphanages and children’s homes with emergency relief for food and other basic necessities, and ship basic medicines and medical supplies and equipment to our partners who operate clinics and hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the meantime, until vaccinations are available for all in the countries where we work including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, we support and applaud the efforts of WHO which recommends “for the foreseeable future we must keep wearing masks, cleaning our hands, ensuring good ventilation indoors, physically distancing and avoiding crowds” – something for many, such as those infected children and caregivers at Kabwata who remain in our thoughts and prayers, know is easier said than done, despite their best efforts.