Report on the Strategic Response to COVID-19 in the WHO African Region – 1 February 2021 to 31 January 2022


Executive Summary

This report highlights the results achieved in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the WHO African Region, in line with the 1 February 2021 to 31 January 2022 COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP).

In 2021, the African Region lived through three waves of the COVID-19 virus, amidst the emergence of new variants, with each wave peaking higher than the former, though not necessarily resulting in higher death ratios. Countries battled multiple complex humanitarian crises and had to contend with the morose resumption of health programmes and clinical services, pandemic fatigue, an exhausted workforce and economic fallout. By the end of January 2022, the Region had registered 7.76M cases and 161 700 deaths, with pointed differences among countries regarding hospitalizations and case fatality ratios, depending on response capacity, comorbidity incidence, health system resilience and vaccination rates, among other factors.

Community transmission was the main cause of the spread of the virus, and consequently, the response maintained a high priority for investment in risk communication and community engagement. Despite some gains during 2021, the vaccination rate hovered at 9.96% for those with the first dose, and 6.31% for those fully vaccinated. Considered low, this rate has been attributed to the erratic incidence of vaccine supplies, compounded by vaccine inequity. Indeed, in 2021, in stark contrast to the vaccination rates in Africa, 37 countries across the world were assigned six times as many vaccine doses for booster shots.

Notwithstanding the shortfall of roughly 300 million vaccine doses, by end-January 2022, 24 of the 47 countries in the African Region had vaccinated 40% of the population. However, this situation may soon be reversed. A concerted action by the joint AVAT and COVAX facility is scheduled to complete delivery of one billion vaccine doses to the continent by mid2022, including 400 million doses resulting from industrial scale fill and finish efforts in South Africa.

In response to reporting gaps in health system continuity, and all aspects of the response, a COVID-19 information hub has already resulted in enhanced evidence for decision-making, with more and better disease-related regional data and information collection, analysis and knowledge prod¬ucts. The analysis undertaken by the hub reveals that many cases of the disease were likely missed, given the low testing in difficult-to-reach areas, even though increased testing was conducted in urban areas for travellers, and those with symptoms.

WHO supported countries in improving alert management systems for early detection at health facilities, and at the community level, with considerable emphasis placed on active case finding and contact tracing. In December 2021, training for contact tracing was in high demand in West Africa, with a number of countries requesting technical advice.