Governments in Africa are scrambling to bolster health systems and accelerate vaccination campaigns, as a third wave of Covid-19 infections threatens to overwhelm hospitals and kill tens of thousands of people.
South Africa, the worst affected country on the continent, has reported a doubling of new daily cases in the past two weeks, with no signs of the increase slowing down.
Gauteng province, home to a quarter of the country’s population of 60 million, as well as the administrative capital, Pretoria and the financial center of Johannesburg, is the center of the latest outbreak, accounting for roughly 60% of the latest daily increase. national.
Hospitals and health workers are about to be overwhelmed. A large hospital was closed earlier this year after a fire and other large facilities were closed due to a lack of trained personnel. Doctors are making dozens of phone calls to secure a bed for critically ill patients.
South Africa has already suffered two major waves, raising its official death toll to 60,000, although excess mortality figures reveal that at least another 100,000 people are likely to have died in the pandemic.
Last week, Cyril Ramaphosa, the president, imposed mild restrictions that, according to most experts, are unlikely to make much of a difference.
Government expectations are low, with much anger over a series of corruption scandals involving Covid-19 spending. Earlier this month, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize was forced to resign while allegations of irregularities in the award of Covid-19 response contracts were investigated.
The roughly 60 residents of Union Street, a narrow alley in Soweto, said they have learned the hard way not to wait too long. “All times were bad. It has always been tough here. But this is really worse. Now we have orphans in our church, ”said Leonard Magrwanya, 74.
“I believe in God. I have faith in God. One day, Covid will end and we can return to normal, but that is only in the power of God,” he said.
South Africa had many advantages over other African countries before the Covid crisis: a greater ability to borrow money, a more extensive public health system bolstered by a large private sector, world-class scientists, and a long experience in managing pandemics. .
However, after a highly praised prompt response, the authorities have struggled. The economic damage caused by the pandemic has already been severe.
Tasneena Sylvester, 35, who has lived on Union Street for 11 years, lost her job as a cleaner and her husband was fired by the construction company that had employed him for years during the tough shutdown in March and April last year.
Now the couple and their three children live on government aid and spend their days watching pirated Netflix TV and movies that are exchanged on USB drives.
“I want an education for my children and a job to survive. But now there is nothing, ”he said.
In the small shack that is the headquarters of the Soweto Kliptown youth organization, Bob Nameng, the 51-year-old founder, accused the government of mishandling the crisis.
“There is too much corruption. The rich benefit from the tears of the poor. The poor cry. The rich dance, ”he said.
Nameng said he believed that the ruling African National Congress, in power since 1994, had “become the opposite of what the people of Soweto fought” during the long battle against the racist and repressive apartheid regime.
“They don’t care about anyone but themselves. We support the ANC but we will not do it forever. They have lost many votes. A hungry man is an angry man, ”he said.
South Africa’s faltering vaccination campaign has yet to reach more than one in 30 of the population, after a series of missteps and misfortunes were compounded by poor decision-making, critics say.
The officials were slow to start conversations with manufacturers, and the talks were later halted by bureaucracy and factional infighting.
The UN-backed Covax program delivered a million AstraZeneca hits, which were repulsed once it became clear that they were less effective against the new local variant.
Ultimately, a shipment of 2 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines had to be destroyed when regulators decided it might have been contaminated after violating health and safety regulations at a US factory.
With the wealthy nations of the west purchasing millions of doses for their populations, it has been difficult to secure supplies for South Africa.
“What has limited us has been the lack of vaccines. All the provinces and the private sector have been eager to open additional sites. ” said Nicholas Crisp, deputy director general of the health department.
The vaccination campaign has also been suspended on weekends to allow health personnel to rest and because “there is no overtime budget.”
At a press conference last week, the acting health minister, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, promised that the campaign would be accelerated as enough shots finally began to arrive, and said that army doctors would be brought in to reinforce the system of health in Gauteng.
A big problem is doubts about vaccines. In a recent survey67% said they would definitely take the vaccine, and 18% said they would not. The survey found that those who think Ramaphosa and his government are doing a bad job are much less likely to accept a vaccine.
On Union Street, some even doubt the existence of Covid-19.
“I think it’s all made up. They want us to believe that Covid exists and to follow their instructions. And I heard that vaccines turn off his body systems, ”said 54-year-old Jemima Dtadegane.
Officials say they are aware of the problem and will try to communicate better in the future. After extensive interaction in the early months of the pandemic, government ministers and specialists have rarely given briefings. Ramaphosa has interventions limited to infrequent televised speeches.
Alex van den Heever, a professor of public administration at Johannesburg’s Wits University, said the failure to recognize the true death toll in the pandemic, as revealed by excess mortality figures rather than deaths recorded in hospitals, it is due to a “political decision taken from the beginning.”
“They wanted to make sure that the ANC viewed the management of the pandemic as the responsibility of the ANC and that negative issues were minimized. That is an inappropriate intention. Information must be made public, errors must be addressed and questions must be answered, ”he said. “The reality is that we have had a severe and severe epidemic.”
Most Union Street residents have seen images from the United States or Europe and know that the pandemic is waning there.
“In rich countries, they are going out and working. They have better governments, I think, “Rebecca Mfungquza, 23.” Maybe they could help us a little. We need it.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism