The 71st session of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Committee for Africa started on Tuesday with focus on the continent’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The three-day session, being held virtually for the second year in a row, has brough together health ministers from the continent to set the continent’s health agenda for the next 12 months.
While opening the session, Togolese Prime Minister Victoire Tomegah Dogbé, who spoke on behalf of President Faure Gnassingbé, called for stronger global solidarity to ensure COVID-19 vaccine equity.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need for global solidarity, which is highlighted by the need for countries to seek effective protective measures, both individually and collectively,” he said.
The meeting comes as the continent ramps up vaccination efforts with the aim of slowing down the spread of the virus.
The African Union (AU) earlier this month began the delivery of some 220 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to member states, with the potential to distribute an additional 180 million doses in the future.
Some 6.4 million doses are expected to be shipped this month alone. Monthly shipments will continue and be continually ramped up, with a target of delivering about 50 million vaccines by the end of December.
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged African countries to support an international treaty or other legal instrument to improve international cooperation on pandemic preparedness and response that will be discussed in November at a Special Session of the World Health Assembly.
“The vaccine crisis illustrates the fundamental weakness at the root of the pandemic: the lack of global solidarity and sharing – sharing of information and data, biological samples, resources, technology and tools,” said Dr Tedros.
So far, Africa has reported more than 7.5 million COVID-19 infections with over 190,000 fatalities.