GENEVA, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- Low-income countries worldwide are still facing difficulty in accessing COVID-19 vaccines as the global death toll inflicted by the ongoing pandemic has reached five million.
The inequitable distribution of doses has currently become a major bottleneck in the global fight against the disease.
U.S., EUROPE HARDEST HIT
According to the latest data from World Health Organization (WHO), as of 5:40 p.m. CET (1640 GMT), there have been 246,951,274 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 5,004,855 deaths, reported to the WHO.
The United States has the highest cumulative number of confirmed cases and deaths, with almost 45.68 million cases and 740,366 deaths, accounting for nearly 18.5 percent and 14.8 percent respectively of the world's totals.
In terms of WHO regional offices, the Americas and Europe have so far reported 93,711,700 and 77,231,883 confirmed cases, and 2,296,114 and 1,432,224 deaths, respectively. The two regions together account for nearly 70 percent of the world's confirmed cases and about 74.5 percent of deaths.
WHO said that for the week ending Oct. 24, the number of new confirmed cases and deaths reported weekly worldwide had increased for the first time in two months, or four percent and five percent respectively week-on-week, as the continued rise in the European region outweighed declines elsewhere.
Europe had reported an increase in new confirmed cases for four consecutive weeks, up 18 percent compared to the previous week.
FURTHER SPREAD AS WINTER NEARS
WHO experts have said recently that many countries have already phased out restriction measures against COVID-19, but with the onset of autumn and winter in the Northern Hemisphere and the emergence of cold snaps, people will be more inclined to spend more time indoors, leading to reduced social distances, which, combined with poor ventilation, could lead to further spread of the virus and a continued increase in new cases in the future. This is particularly true in Europe.
"Cases will increase. We have the Delta variant. The Delta variant is evolving. We are tracking more than 30 sublineages of this so the pandemic will continue," said Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO's Health Emergencies Program.
Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Program, has expressed concerns that communities are going back to what people consider as normal and restrictions have been progressively lifted in many countries in stages over the last number of months, which is coinciding with the winter period when people are moving inside as the cold snaps appear.
"In that sense, there is more social mixing, there is more movement and when you have more social mixing and more movement in the presence of a virus that spreads by a respiratory route then you're going to get more cases. That's a reality," he said.
Ryan also warned of repeating the situation last year when large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks led to extreme pressure on national healthcare systems. He held that the fact that many countries in the European Union (EU) have been able to decouple the incidence from the deaths speaks to the value of the vaccines.
"The issue is that that benefit (of vaccines) is not available to so many millions of people in so many countries, including those health workers in countries all around the world. So we will expect to see increases in cases," he said.
Ryan also suggested that the focus should not be too much on the overall percentage of people who are vaccinated, but most importantly on those in high-risk groups who have missed vaccinations but are still at the highest risk of infection and death.
ACCESSING DIFFICULTIES FOR LOW-INCOME COUNTRIES
The inequitable global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has led to many low-income countries having difficulty in accessing vaccine doses, which has become a major bottleneck in responding to the pandemic.
According to WHO's records, more than 6.89 billion vaccine doses ha been administered globally. It said early last month that almost one-third of the world's population had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, low-income countries had received less than half of one percent of the world's vaccines. In Africa, less than five percent of people were fully vaccinated.
WHO announced an initiative in early October to vaccinate 40 percent of the population of every country against COVID-19 by the end of 2021 and 70 percent by mid-2022, by prioritizing vaccine delivery to low-income countries, particularly those in Africa.
According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, achieving these targets will require at least 11 billion vaccine doses, which is an allocation problem instead of a supply problem. "With global vaccine production now at nearly 1.5 billion doses per month, there is enough supply to achieve our targets, provided they are distributed equitably," he said last month.
In addition to calling on countries with high vaccine coverage to swap delivery schedules with COVAX, the WHO-led international vaccine campaign, and to fulfill their dose-sharing pledges immediately, WHO has been asking vaccine manufacturers to prioritize and fulfill contracts with COVAX as a matter of urgency, and to be "more transparent on what is going where, and to share know-how and non-exclusive licenses to enable all regions to increase manufacturing capacity."
At the G20 summit just concluded in Rome, WHO called on participants to increase vaccine supplies for the world's poorest, to ensure access to vaccines for all people on the move, and to support low- and middle-income countries to combat COVID-19 with all available means, including financial, political, technical and logistical support. Enditem