Key Takeaways From Our #FriendsHealthChat with Dr. Raji Tajudeen

With the rise of COVID-19, hospital capacity in Africa is becoming overcrowded, leading to a shortage and insufficient supply of oxygen, PPE and vaccines.

Dr. Raji Tajudeen has an extensive background in medicine and public health and a broad knowledge of the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. The Head of the Division of Public Health Institutes and Research at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) spoke with Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on January 25, 2021 about the direct and indirect effects of COVID-19 in Africa as well as the resources needed to support the ongoing initiatives combating AIDS, TB and malaria.

With a new COVID-19 variant recently emerging in South Africa, a second wave of COVID-19 is hitting the continent and having a devastating impact. Dr. Tajudeen highlighted what he learned from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa five years ago, stressing the indirect impacts of COVID-19 such as additional barriers for patients accessing healthcare, patients avoiding receiving help for other health concerns and a disruption of daily lives and routines.

He also discussed the direct impacts of COVID-19 in Africa, citing the increase in mortality from the second wave compared to the first. In addition, Dr. Tajudeen said that healthcare facilities are being overwhelmed, running out of oxygen supply and having to prioritize whom to admit to facilities. “Those routine health services like mother and child health, routine child immunization, TB, malaria, HIV and so forth, will also be affected because once health systems are getting overwhelmed, other routine care will be affected as well,” he said.

Dr. Tajudeen noted the importance securing equitable and affordable access to resources and supplies like oxygen and increasing the number of individuals vaccinated throughout Africa. In addition, he wants to see routine health services working harmoniously alongside the current COVID-19 efforts so that both initiatives are running safely and effectively together.  Dr. Tajudeen emphasized the importance of carefully reopening the economy and educational systems in Africa.

The next topic discussed was vaccination access and distribution. Dr. Tajudeen expressed concern that Africa is having to call upon partners outside of Africa to help assist in the COVID-19 response. In order to scale up the vaccine response, they need strengthened manufacturing and technical capacity. “How do we use this opportunity to strengthen local capacity in terms of manufacturing? How do we use this opportunity to emphasize… the need for technological transfer so that when the next pandemic comes on board we are not going to start calling people outside the continent to assist, at least even if we are going to call them it is going to come as a very last resort?” he asked.

There are other tools, in addition to vaccines, that need to be scaled up the COVID-19 response. Dr. Tajudeen highlighted important resources that are needed right now which include oxygen, PPE (gloves, masks, etc.), a stronger public health workforce and committed healthcare workers, saying “in terms of diagnostics, this is also something that we need to come up with innovative ways of making sure that we are able to produce some of these on the continent… I think what is just lacking is the necessary resources, especially financial resources, transfer of technology and appropriate training for our staffs”.

COVID-19 has disrupted services aimed at combating AIDS, TB and malaria. He expressed that “if we are not careful… ten years of progress will be eroded and we do not want that to happen”. Before the pandemic, Africa made enormous strides against the AIDS, TB and malaria epidemics, but as Dr. Tajudeen mentioned, without continued support for those initiatives, there is concern that cases will increase. He stated that the “Global Fund should not get tired. They should continue to make available resources, and continue to run these programs so that at the end of the day, we do not erode the progress that has been made over the years”.

Kyra Manson is a communications intern at Friends of the Global Fight.