The perennially restive Central African Republic, one of the world’s poorest countries, began a coronavirus vaccine rollout on Thursday after cases burgeoned since the start of the year.
The campaign began in the capital Bangui where 60,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had arrived under the COVAX programme to help poorer countries, the health ministry said.
There have been just over 7,000 cases and 96 deaths but the number of infections in the first four months of this year has been 20 times higher than the last quarter of 2020.
“Apart from the urban zones, the outbreak is spreading deep inside villages,” President Faustin Archange Touadera warned on Wednesday.
“It is a threat which can be potentially destabilizing,” he said.
Health Minister Pierre Somse said the first recipients would be healthcare workers, the aged and people with co-morbidities.
President Touadera said efforts to stem COVID-19 were hamstrung “by a near-total denial of the disease, prejudice and misinformation”.
According to a study by the Grounds Trust NGO, 65 percent of the people interviewed did not “believe the disease exists”.
The government said security concerns had also hampered the Covid fightback.
Tensions have been high in CAR since the December presidential election, although the surge in violence in recent months is just the latest flare-up in a civil war that has lasted eight years since the ouster of president Francois Bozize.
More than 30,000 people have fled the mineral-rich but abysmally poor country because of the violence surrounding the elections, the UN says, while tens of thousands more have been internally displaced.
The United Nations meanwhile Thursday warned that the country faced severe hunger, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“More than 2.2 million people, most of them in rural areas, risk facing acute food insecurity between April and August,” the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a joint statement.
Of the 4.9 million population, “more than 630,000 people face an emergency situation which means they may have to withdraw their children from school and resort to begging,” the statement said.
The agencies said the situation had worsened because of a “spike in violence in December on the sidelines of the presidential and legislative elections.”