Africa has to focus on getting Covid-19 shots into people’s arms, especially those who are immunosuppressed, if it is to avoid the long-term spread of the disease, according to John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reaching a 70% immunisation target by the end of the year is “a tall order given where we are, but we have to do that.”
Scientists have posited that both the Omicron and Beta Covid-19 variants may have developed in immune compromised individuals, whose weak immune systems can harbor the coronavirus for months, allowing it to mutate into a version that transmitted more effectively and evaded vaccines. Both those variants spread globally.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to about 70% of the total number of people globally infected with HIV, which causes the immune disease AIDS.
A study of an HIV positive 36-year-old woman in South Africa showed that the Covid-19 virus stayed in her body for 216 days and mutated rapidly.
South Africa alone has 8.2 million people infected with HIV, according to the national statistics agency.
“Variants will emerge if the virus continues to circulate,” Nkengasong said. “We have to vaccinate at speed and at scale, especially the immuno-suppressed population on the continent.”
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African countries also need to make sure that people that are receiving antiretrovirals for HIV get that treatment in a timely manner so that their HIV viral load is suppressed and their immune system is ready to fight Covid-19, he said.
Rising vaccination rates will also allow Africa to avoid severe lockdowns, which have created “tremendous harm” to economies, Nkengasong said.