Moving Beyond the Initial Stage of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Africa

On May 5, 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) lifted the status of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). The decision was based on the recommendations of the Emergency Committee on COVID-19, which took into account the 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) welcomed this strategic shift and recognized the importance of transitioning to long-term control strategies. The African Union, through the Africa CDC, has been providing comprehensive strategic, technical, and logistical assistance to its member states, which has effectively helped mitigate the severe health impacts and fatalities initially anticipated for the continent.

As of April 30, 2023, the African Union Member States reported a total of 12,294,440 COVID-19 cases and 257,032 deaths, accounting for 2% of global cases and 4% of global deaths. However, there has been a significant decrease in the number of new cases and deaths in Africa compared to the previous year, with a 95% and 98% reduction, respectively, during the period from January to April 2023. This period recorded the lowest number of cases in the past three years on the continent.

The Africa CDC, led by Dr. Jean Kaseya, the Director General, urged African Union member states to continue scaling up COVID-19 vaccinations, including primary and booster doses for vulnerable populations, in order to maintain preparedness and mitigate any potential future surges. The strategic shift aims to build upon the gains made during the pandemic response while addressing the setbacks resulting from a narrowly focused approach.

Africa CDC has been implementing various policies and strategies to facilitate the transition phase, including revising the COVID-19 testing and surveillance strategy to integrate it into routine healthcare services. Other key areas of focus include vaccination efforts, health workforce development, strengthening laboratory systems, primary healthcare integration, early warning data systems, and implementation research.

Africa CDC emphasizes the need for sustainable partnerships with organizations such as the WHO, United Nations (UN) agencies, African-based organizations, and bilateral and multilateral partners. The Africa CDC will continue to coordinate the transition at a continental level and support AU member states in the post-acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic by strengthening testing and surveillance capacities, advancing vaccine access and local manufacturing, workforce development, healthcare and public health system strengthening, access to countermeasures, and communication and social mobilization.

While the lifting of the PHEIC status marks a significant step towards a new phase in COVID-19 management, the Africa CDC urges member states to remain vigilant and strengthen their response systems to detect and respond to COVID-19 and other respiratory disease outbreaks effectively. The Africa CDC’s Transition Strategy for COVID-19 Response in Africa will continue to support AU member states in preparing for and responding to COVID-19 and other health threats.