Amnesty International and 27 groups in southern Africa are calling for a faster pace of vaccinations as a new wave of coronavirus infections sweeps through the region.
"A number of countries across southern Africa, including Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, are currently in the midst of what could be the deadliest wave yet," said Robert Shivambu, spokesman for Amnesty International in Southern Africa, speaking via a messaging app from Johannesburg. "The lack of vaccines in the region with high levels of poverty and inequality means many people feel they are just waiting to die."
He said regional bloc SADC (Southern African Development Community) and the international community must work together to accelerate the vaccine rollout and ensure that as many people as possible are given jabs.
On Thursday, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the head of the World Health Organization in Africa, asked wealthier countries to start donating vaccine doses to the continent. She said richer countries have vaccinated 60 percent of their populations, while most African countries are at about 1 percent.
She said for Africa to reach 30 percent by the end of the year, it needs at least 700 million doses.
"African people have been vaccinated with a first dose of a vaccine that needs a second dose in order to work optimally, and these supplies are proving to be a huge struggle," Moeti said. "So, the urgency of having vaccines available right now is huge. In short, the donations are appreciated, the volumes need to be very significant, and it is super urgent that these start to be available now."
Zimbabwe is one of the countries that has been most affected by vaccine shortages, as well as a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Calling it an "invisible enemy," Vice President Constantino Chiwenga vowed Thursday that Zimbabwe will overcome the third wave of COVID-19.
Chiwenga — a former army general — said every Zimbabwean must cooperate for the country to win the "COVID-19 war."
"By end of this month and maybe into the first week of July, we would have received 2.5 million doses of the two vaccines, which we are using, Sinopharm and Sinovac. And we want everyone to be vaccinated, starting with all our borders, and then we will go to all hotspots which have been affected," he said.
"Let me ask [for] the cooperation of everyone. Those who want to trade, you must trade at those places, but you must have a vaccination certificate of COVID-19. So, if one wants to sell at a marketplace, the individual must also get vaccinated," Chiwenga added.
It was not immediately clear if Zimbabwe had moved to compulsory vaccination as Chiwenga — who doubles as Zimbabwe's health minister — did not field questions.
So far, about 716,000 Zimbabweans have received their first shots, and slightly more than 450,000 have received their second.
Zimbabwe has 43,480 confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,692 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, which tracks the global outbreak.