Maverick Citizen

MAVERICK CITIZEN

Investment in science and technology is essential in Africa’s fight against Covid-19, say experts

(Photo: coronavirus.dental-tibune.com / Wikipedia)

The discovery of a new coronavirus variant has set South Africa’s economic recovery back, but experts from the World Health Organisation, Africa Centres for Disease Control and South African government say that an investment in technological innovation will help the country bounce back.

The Government Communication and Information System hosted a webinar on Wednesday with Minister of Tourism Mmamoloko Kubayi, Dr John Nkengasong from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Mboneni Muofhe from the Department of Science and Innovation and Dr Richard Mihigo from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Nkengasong was at pains to highlight that Covid-19 had robbed people of their loved ones and that the need for decisive action was urgent. 

“My greatest concern and worry is that what we are throwing out here as the number of deaths, will soon become just statistics and figures and no longer reflect loss of life.” 

Nkengasong said it was important to get the messaging around vaccines right because there is a lot of scepticism, misinformation and misunderstanding about what vaccines can do.

“I dread to see a headline in Africa saying ‘Covid moving from a pandemic to an endemic disease,” said Nkengasong.

He said that people needed to know that there would be more variants of Covid-19, as it was in the nature of viruses to mutate. He said the new variant might mean raising the herd immunity immunisation threshold from 60% to higher in order for it to be effective.

If by 2022 Africa has not vaccinated at least 60% of the population, this would have a severe impact on the continent’s economy. 

Muofhe said that what made South Africa’s response to the coronavirus so swift was that the country had made sound investments in science and technology.

Talking about the  501.V2 variant first identified in South Africa, Muofhe said: “When we started picking up the 501.V2 it was about 11% of those infected with Covid-19 that had this particular variant, and that was October. In November that grew to about 16%, in December that grew to about 37%, and in January it was 94%, and by February it became everyone who comes in basically had this particular variant, and that then means that in terms of fighting the pandemic you actually begin to know and understand what kind of an enemy you’re dealing with.”

He said it was impossible to implement an effective vaccination process unless you know what kind of variant you’re dealing with. 

“As the African continent we really need to up our investment in science and technological development so that we can be proud and say we are actually not being told by anybody outside of this continent about the variants that are dominant here, we are doing the work ourselves.” 

Mihigo said that: “We are now seeing emerging evidence from the rest of the world that the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines is really having a positive impact on reducing cases of hospitalisation and death and so it is imperative that these vaccines are made available across the continent as soon as possible.” 

He said that this week the WHO had crossed a notable milestone in ensuring equitable access to the Covid-19 vaccine, with Ghana and Ivory Coast being the first countries in Africa to begin vaccination using the AstraZeneca vaccine procured through the Covax facility.

“Ongoing research will be important in understanding the extent of protection that a vaccine will have against other variants and for population sub-groups like older people.”

He said that the variant first identified in South Africa had now been reported in at least nine countries in Africa. 

Mihigo said it was important to call for more international solidarity, such as wealthy countries sharing surplus vaccine doses with poorer African countries. DM/MC

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"