WHO Lifts the Status of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC)
On May 5, 2023, more than three (3) years since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), the status was lifted. The Emergency Committee on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in a report recommended lifting the status due to increasing global vaccination rates and the reduced rates of deaths and severe illnesses requiring hospitalization.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) welcomes this strategic shift recognizing the significance of transitioning to long-term control strategies. The African Union through the Africa CDC has offered its member states comprehensive strategic, technical, and logistical assistance. This support has effectively helped mitigate the severe health impacts and fatalities that were initially anticipated for the continent.
As of 30 April 2023, a total of 12,294,440 COVID-19 cases and 257,032 deaths (CFR: 2.1%) were reported by all 55 African Union (AU) Member States (MS). This represents 2% of all cases and 4% of all deaths reported globally. From 1 January to 30 April 2023, 74,611 new cases and 508 new deaths of COVID-19 were reported on the continent, which is a 95% and 98% decrease in the number of new cases and deaths respectively, reported in Africa compared to the same period in the previous year. The number of cases reported within this period in 2023 was the lowest recorded in the same period over the past three years on the continent.
"To continuously lessen the impact of COVID-19 on our continent, I implore the African Union member states to maintain different approaches in scaling up COVID-19 vaccinations such as primary and booster COVID-19 vaccination to all vulnerable populations and enhance our efforts in saving lives and livelihoods. This will enhance our level of preparedness in the event of any COVID-19 surges,"- Dr Jean Kaseya, Africa CDC Director General.
The strategic shift will consolidate and build on the gains made by member states during the pandemic response while addressing the setbacks that resulted from a narrowly focused approach to the COVID-19 response. Africa CDC started this gradual transition phase in August 2022 by adopting various policies and strategies such as the Revised COVID-19 Testing & Surveillance Strategy, Transitioning from Emergency Response to Integration into Routine Healthcare Services
Africa CDC has been adapting the strategy as follows:
- Vaccinating high-risk, target segments of the African population to achieve 100% coverage for essential workers and vulnerable populations
- Developing strategic policy and operational plans for booster doses for vulnerable populations, considering logistical requirements, modified risk communication and community engagement messaging, integration, and equity
- Integrating COVID-19 response into the Primary Health Care system in a way that is responsive to the needs and priorities of Member States
- Supporting genomic sequencing by integrating and strengthening laboratory systems across multiple countries
- Focusing on health workforce development, particularly in epidemiology for surveillance of both respiratory diseases and COVID-19, as well as sentinel surveillance and Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR)
- Supporting Primary Health Care systems and early warning data systems thanks to the recruitment of 50 National Coordinators for deployment to different AU member states
- Ensuring timely access to continental-level data for effective early warning and detection of new outbreaks
- Investing in implementation research to answer key questions about COVID-19, vaccines, and their impact on the entire health system
The Africa CDC is acutely aware that lives are at stake and the challenges are immense, emphasizing the need for sustainable action-oriented partnerships with WHO and other United Nations (UN) agencies, African-based organizations, and bilateral and multilateral partners. The Africa CDC remains an active participant in the COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Partnership (CoVDP) and the Alliance for COVID-19, believing there is an opportunity to expand the scope of the alliance to go beyond COVID-19.
In view of the above, during this transition phase, the Africa CDC will continue to focus on two main pillars:
- Coordinating the transition at a continental level from COVID-19-specific interventions to standing continental mechanisms for public health emergency preparedness and response.
- Supporting AU member states in the transition to the Post-Acute Phase of the COVID-19 pandemic focusing on:a) Strengthening testing and surveillance capacities and supporting the integration into routine systems;b) Advancing access, target, integration, and local manufacturing of vaccinesc) Workforce Development;d) Strengthening health care and public health system with a special focus on National public health Institutes and Public Health Emergency Operations centres;e) Access to countermeasures;f) Communication and social mobilization.
In furtherance of this alignment and collaboration, Africa CDC through the AU has developed the "Africa CDC Transitioning Strategy for COVID-19 Response in Africa"
The Africa CDC implores its member states to recognize that COVID-19 remains a clear and present danger. As such, it is imperative to keep the momentum high in strengthening vigilance and response systems in a way that also advances our Primary Health Care System in ensuring that the continent will detect and respond to COVID-19 and other respiratory disease outbreaks optimally.
In conclusion, the lifting of the COVID-19 PHEIC status is a significant step towards a new phase in the management of COVID-19 and through its Transition Strategy, Africa CDC will continue to support AU member states to prepare for and respond to COVID-19 and other health threats.
Dorothy Wambeti Njagi, Senior Communication Officer - Policy, Health Diplomacy & Communication: Africa CDC | Tel: +251 940 559 950 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
G. Nekerwon Gweh, Communication Officer - Policy, Health Diplomacy & Communication; Africa CDC | Tel: +251 945 502 310 | Email: GwehN@africa-union.org
About Africa CDC
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) is a continental autonomous Public Health agency of the African Union which supports Member States in their efforts to strengthen health systems and improve surveillance, emergency response, prevention and control of diseases.
Learn more at: http://www.africacdc.org