Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Nigeria's exhausted medics keep waiting for COVID-19 vaccines

Dr Oluwajoba Oroge braced for the week ahead - another long line of coronavirus patients at Abuja's EHA clinic, and another long wait for news of a vaccine.

Europe has been inoculating its people since December - but African health authorities say it could still be weeks, even months, until they get their first shots.

Every day, said Dr. Oroge, cases are mounting, stocks of protective gear are dwindling and the number of his colleagues with the energy and health to keep fighting is falling.

"The cases will continue to rise if we don't have a vaccine," the 30-year-old told Reuters after seeing a patient. "That continues to mean more work stress, more mental stress, more stress on all the resources."

More than 2,600 Nigerian physicians have contracted COVID-19 and dozens of them have died, said Dr Adetunji Adenekan, chairman of the Lagos state branch of the Nigerian Medical Association. "We are depleted every day by the minute."

Nigeria's health minister Osagie Ehanire said last month he was hoping to see the fist vaccines arrive through the global COVAX scheme in January, though he gave no details on precise timing, or which shot Nigeria would get.

African states have accused richer regions of cornering most of the supplies. The head of the World Health Organization - Ethiopia's Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus - said last week the world was on the brink of "catastrophic moral failure" when it came to sharing out shots.

Daily tallies of confirmed cases hit record levels across Africa this month, and the second wave is infecting twice as many people per day as the height of last year's first, according to the African Union's Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Nigeria has reported 110,387 confirmed cases, and 1,435 deaths, though African officials have warned that low testing could mask more cases.

Privately, some doctors say they worry that when vaccines arrive in Nigeria, they will go first to the rich and powerful.

Dr Ndaeyo Iwot, acting executive secretary of primary health care in Abuja, said the government would track doses to clamp down on any corruption. "It will go through the system," he said.

(Reporting By Abraham Achirga in Abuja and Nneka Chile in Lagos; Additional reporting and writing by Libby George in Lagos; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

By Abraham Achirga and Nneka Chile 


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