Ministers of Health from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on May 11, 2021 held a virtual meeting to discuss the COVID-19 epidemiological situation in the region and come up with recommendations to mitigate the spread of the pandemic.
Professor Douto Armindo Daniel Tiago, Minister of Health of the Republic of Mozambique, chaired the meeting in his capacity as the Chairperson of the SADC Ministerial Committee on Health.
Delivering his opening remarks, Prof Tiago said despite the efforts and progress made in member states so far in relation to COVID-19, there was still need to strengthen and reinforce joint plans to ensure the availability of vaccines, as well as to sustain the gains achieved. He urged member states to remain engaged in the fight to reduce an increase in cases and deaths.
Prof Tiago lamented challenges facing member states in accessing vaccines, which made it difficult to plan vaccination rollouts; as well as the short shelf-life of vaccines.
SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Tax said while the COVID-19 general outlook in the region had been steadily improving, the trajectory of the outbreak remained unpredictable.
She noted a decline in the number of new cases, except in a few member states; and commended countries for their co-ordinated response and robust approach to implementation of public health and socio-economic measures to deal with the pandemic.
Dr Tax said while the SADC region appealed for increased and equal access to vaccines, emphasis should also be placed on the enhancement of capacity – at regional and national levels – in research and manufacturing of medicines and vaccines.
The Executive Secretary commended the Expanded Technical Committee for Co-ordinating and Monitoring implementation of the SADC Protocol on Health for developing guidelines and standard operating procedures to facilitate cross-border movements of goods and public health surveillance at points of entry.
Health ministers urged member states to continue strengthening existing disease control activities, including epidemiological surveillance, strategic testing and increase routine systematic sequencing of representative samples of SARS-CoV-2 isolates from across the country whenever possible.
The ministers also called for strengthening national regulatory agencies to conduct vaccine assessments and issue emergency use authorisations; and to proactively build and maintain trust in COVID-19 vaccines by engaging communities to mitigate mistrust and vaccine hesitancy.
They also called upon governments to vaccinate SADC citizens residing within their territories including, but not limited to, diplomats, migrants, students and those in border areas.
Member states were urged to share lessons and experiences on the manufacture, distribution and management of vaccines, including information on potential investors willing to set up manufacturing plants within the SADC region.
The health ministers called for increased use of COVID-19 test certificates to facilitate smooth resumption of economic activities.
They also directed the SADC Secretariat to mobilise resources to support ongoing research in COVID-19 and African traditional medicine.The ministers requested the World Health Organisation to help member states track and tackle new variants by helping to build and boost complex genomic surveillance capacities needed to detect and respond to new variants, shipping samples to sequencing laboratories and providing supplies, technical guidance and financial support to countries for laboratory equipment. – sadc.int