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True Cost of Covid-19 for Africa’s Healthcare System

ARTICLE by Dr Wahome Karanja, Kenya

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Kenya - Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccine - CNN 07-06-2021
Kenya - Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccine - CNN 07-06-2021

When Covid-19 struck, there was great concern that healthcare facilities around the world would be overwhelmed.

The predictions for Africa were particularly dire. Fortunately, we didn’t witness the kind of devastation anticipated. But that doesn’t mean our healthcare systems didn’t suffer – often experiencing a range of hidden costs.

Take the Kenyan Ear, Nose and Throat Society, of which I am executive committee member, as an example.

At the onset of the pandemic, the Society implemented strict guidelines for members. We had to double mask with N95 face masks which, being medical grade, are more expensive than regular face masks, and change gowns between patients.

These decisions saved lives – but they also increased hospitals’ operational costs, which are now being passed on to patients in the form of higher healthcare prices.

Dr Wahome Karanja on COVID-19 and Africa

Dr Wahome Karanja

Tragically, we have also lost many healthcare workers – heroes who put their lives on the line for the public good. Families and friends feel that loss most poignantly.

And it is a loss to our health systems too. In Africa, we grapple with the lowest ratio of healthcare workers per population.

It is estimated that the global shortage of healthcare workers will be most significant in Africa, with a shortage of around 6 million healthcare workers by 2030.

The pandemic also cost us progress on other public health priorities, including HIV/Aids, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria. Experts warn that the pandemic has effectively derailed years of public health progress.

Ogun State walk in & Drive through Covid-19 testing centre

Ogun State (Nigeria) walk in & Drive through Covid-19 testing centre

So, we need to get every eligible person vaccinated. Particularly healthcare workers. According to the World Health Organisation, only 27% of health workers in Africa have been fully vaccinated, leaving the majority exposed to severe Covid-19 infection.

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As a result, since March 2020 there have been more than 150 400 Covid-19 infections among healthcare workers alone.

We know that vaccines save lives. A study by Public Health England conducted in June 2021 revealed that the Pfizer vaccine is 96% effective against the Delta variant after two doses, while AstraZeneca’s vaccine provides 92% protection against hospitalisation caused by the same variant.

COVID-19 testing at maya maya airport brazzaville congo

Covid-19 (Screening of passengers, Maya Maya airport – Brazzaville, Congo)

Early indications are that they provide good protection against severe illness and hospitalisation even with the new Omicron variant.

Vaccines save lives. And we know that they’re the best way of securing our economies. But here’s another reason vaccines are so important: they will help to shore up our public health sector – and stem the losses.

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