In the face of deadlier and more contagious Covid-19 variants, southern African health ministers have requested the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help member states track and tackle new variants.
This, the ministers suggest, can be done by helping to build and boost complex genomic surveillance capacities needed to detect and respond to new variants, shipping samples to sequencing laboratories and providing supplies, technical guidance and financial support to countries for laboratory equipment.
They called upon member states to vaccinate SADC citizens residing within their territories including, but not limited to diplomats, migrants, students and those residing along the borders.
These were some of the pleas made on 11 May 2021 by the health ministers of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), who held a virtual meeting to discuss the Covid-19 epidemiological situation in the region and come up with recommendations to mitigate the spread of the pandemic.
Another crucial issue that was discussed is for members to proactively build and maintain trust in the Covid-19 vaccine by engaging communities to mitigate the increasing mistrust and vaccine hesitancy as part of the pandemic response.
Approximately 220 countries and territories around the world have reported over 175 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 that originated from Wuhan, China, and a death toll of over 3.7 million.
The sub-region is now entering a particularly perilous stage of the pandemic with the arrival of the so-called Indian and UK variants having been confirmed and flu season brought by plunging temperatures.
During the virtual meeting, SADC executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax said while the Covid-19 general outlook in the region has been steadily improving, the trajectory of the outbreak remains unpredictable.
Members are encouraged to share information on the types of vaccine and number of doses they are receiving from suppliers to strengthen vaccine coverage monitoring in the region through the Secretariat, for wider dissemination among member states.
The ministers also urged members to strengthen the regulatory capacity of national regulatory agencies (NRA) to conduct vaccine assessment and issue emergency use authorisations.
Member states were advised to share experiences on the manufacture, distribution and management of vaccines, including information on potential investors willing to set up manufacturing plants within the SADC region.
The health ministers directed member states to continue using Covid-19 test certificates to allow a smooth and gradual resumption for all economic activities and ensure non-discrimination until herd immunity is reached, and gradually move towards the vaccine certificates.
They directed the SADC Secretariat to mobilise resources to support ongoing research on Covid-19 African traditional medicine.
She said while the region appeals for increased and equal access to vaccines, emphasis should also be placed on the enhancement of capacity in research and the manufacturing of medicines.