The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the developing world hard and Africa is no exception. As per the bulletin on Africa released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on May 30, 2021, the African Region recorded 49 594 new Coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in the period from 24 – 30 May 2021, a 7.8% increase compared to the previous week when 46 018 new cases were reported. A total of 25 (54.4%) countries reported a decrease in new cases. Nineteen countries (41.3%) saw an increase in weekly cases in the period past seven days under study. Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Eswatini, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritius, Mozambique, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe had an increase equal to or above 20.0%. These figures are indeed alarming.

At the same time, the African Union (AU) has taken measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in African countries. In this context, the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is playing a major role. Africa CDC is a specialized technical institution of the African Union established to support public health initiatives of Member States and strengthen the capacity of their public health institutions to detect, prevent, control and respond quickly and effectively to disease threats.

In May 2021 the AU Member States’ Ministers of Health endorsed an adapted joint continental strategy to fight COVID-19. In a communique following a high-level emergency meeting on May 8, 2021, the Ministers called on the AU member states to intensify their efforts for vaccination as a critical component to prevent, contain and bring the pandemic to an end as soon as possible. The meeting was held under the auspices of the Chair of the African Union, Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa and AU COVID-19 Champion, and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat.

During the meeting on May 8, the Africa CDC launched its new COVID-19 strategy on Prevention, Monitoring, and Treatment (PMT), adapting response efforts to the fluid nature of the pandemic, both on the continent and globally. Endorsing this strategy, the Health Ministers have called upon the AU Member States to intensify their efforts for vaccination against COVID-19 as a critical component to prevent, contain and bring the pandemic to an end as quickly as possible. They have also called upon the AU Member States to take up their COVID-19 vaccine allocations through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team platform and engage with the African Export Import Bank to work out the details for the advance purchase agreement.

The African Ministers of Health have also stressed the urgent need to protect other critical health programmes on the continent against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the strategy, the Health Ministers have also stressed the need to understand the impact of vaccine impact and safety in the continent and called on the AU Members States to conduct surveillance for vaccine effectiveness and safety.

AU Health Ministers have supported the 4D partnership bringing together the Africa CDC; the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement Secretariat; the Department of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation; the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy & Sustainable Environment; the Department of Economic Development, Trade, Industry & Mining, all organs and policy and technical arms of the African Union Commission to harness and enable a fuller appreciation of the socio-political determinants of health within the Agenda 2063.

The Health Ministers have also offered their support to the Africa Common Position on COVID-19 Passport, which calls for a global moratorium against the mandatory and unilateral imposition of COVID-19 vaccine requirements for international travel whilst encouraging the continued development of digital vaccine wallets and related technology tools, especially those based on the African Union Trusted Vaccines toolkit, to maximise the benefits of vaccination to the African public.

The strategy also appeals to the AU Member States to invest in acquiring data with appropriate security, and sharing of data in a timely fashion, to help support the continental response efforts against COVID-19, and to enable Africa CDC to better implement the continental strategy in response to COVID-19.

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