Muscat – The overall number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean region has declined in the past few weeks but the situation remains fragile and unpredictable, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean zone has said.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen the trends evolve in waves, so despite recent decline in our region over recent weeks, this pandemic is still far from over,” said Dr Ahmed al Mandhari, WHO, regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean.
As of September 12, the region reported more than 15mn confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 278,000 deaths.
“Five of 22 countries in our region – Egypt, the Palestinian Territories, Somalia, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen – are currently reporting significant surges in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Looking closely at the epidemiological curve, there is a need to speed up the vaccination process and continue to respect all public health and social measures in all countries,” he said.
Low vaccination coverage in several countries, especially low-and lower-middle income countries, is also of concern due to limited deployment capacities, said the director. “Unfortunately, this means that nine countries are far from achieving WHO’s global target of ten per cent vaccination coverage by September 2021.”
Variants of concerns continue to pose further challenges to our response, he added. “To date, 21 countries have officially reported the detection of circulating variants of concern, and the Delta variant is most likely the main variant currently circulating in our region.” Based on evolving trends over the past months, Dr Mandhari said, the region has seen that countries with a high vaccination coverage and adequate implementation of public health and social measures report shorter waves of COVID-19 and fewer cases.
“There are no shortcuts. We can break the chain of COVID-19 transmission only when we apply all available measures at once. We must quickly and effectively scale up vaccination coverage and simultaneously apply all other preventative health and social measures, including maintaining physical distancing, hand-washing, avoiding crowded and closed spaces, and mask-wearing.”
Dr Mandhari called for solidarity and equitable access to vaccines, to move towards the target of all countries protecting ten per cent of their population by September, 40 per cent by the end of this year and 70 per cent by mid of next year. “While we know that the targets for 2021 will not be met in all countries, we must do our absolute best to come as close as possible and then to accelerate our efforts further in the months ahead.”
Thanks to the COVAX facility, the region has received 51.54mn doses of COVID-19 vaccines out of 89mn doses allocated to countries so far. “To increase coverage further, we urge high-income countries, donors and partners to spare no effort to increase vaccine supplies for lower-income countries.”