Health

In under-vaccinated Congo, fourth COVID-19 wave fills hospitals

In a backyard littered with medical equipment, tents are
needed to cope with the overflow.

Democratic Republic of Congo is the least vaccinated country
against COVID-19 in the world. Now a fourth wave of the coronavirus threatens
to put greater pressure on its rickety health system than at any time during
the pandemic.

“We have experienced the three previous waves
gradually, but in the fourth wave cases have jumped overnight,” said
Francois Kajingulu, the head of St Joseph. “On Monday we had 5-6 cases and
on Saturday we went straight from 30 to 36.”

The increase is part of an Africa-wide surge that saw weekly
COVID cases spike 83% in mid-December, driven by the delta and omicron
variants, although deaths remain low, the WHO said.

Congo registered 6,480 new cases in the week of Dec 13 –
more than double the number hit during its previous record week in June, World
Health Organisation data show.

VACCINATION DRIVE

The official infection tally in Congo, which has a young
population and where few people get tested, is still low compared to many
countries. But the low level of inoculations worries health officials who say
that unvaccinated populations increase the risk of new variants emerging.

Fewer than 300,000 people out of a population of 90 million
have received at least one dose, Reuters data indicates, lower than anywhere
else. Hostile terrain, remote populations, insecurity and lack of funds have
all hobbled vaccine rollouts.

The recent surge in cases has pushed authorities to ramp up
inoculations, and the weekly vaccination rate is at its highest yet.

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A tented ‘Vaccinodrome’ has been erected in Kinshasa, whose
province has accounted for the vast majority of Congo’s 67,000-plus cases.

Health workers at the centre are vaccinating around 200
people per day, but that is still below its 300 capacity, said coordinator
Jean-Claude Masumu.

Kinshasa resident Popol Kabasale said the latest wave of
infections had persuaded him to come to the centre for a shot.

“Before we were in the dark,” he said after
receiving a dose. “COVID really exists and to protect myself I’ve come to
get the vaccine.”

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