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FEATURE STORY February 11, 2021

Interview with Dr. Jorge Noel Barreto, the COVID-19 response coordinator in Cabo Verde, “We are very confident that our healthcare workers are well prepared for this immense task”


With its sandy beaches and strategic location off the coast of Western Africa, Cabo Verde enjoys unique opportunities for growth. It has reduced poverty more than any other African nation since 1990. Yet ,the small archipelago’s economy, which is primarily driven by tourism, has been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and GDP is expected to contract by 11% in 2020. 

Since it was first reported in March 2020, the virus spread quickly but the country reacted swiftly to the pandemic and will be the first African country to receive World Bank financing for its vaccination campaign. 

To learn more about the logistics and implications of the COVID-19 immunization plan, we spoke with Dr. Jorge Noel Barreto, National Health Director at Cabo Verde’s Ministry of Health and Social Security.

First, could you tell us about the current situation in Cabo Verde after almost a year of dealing with the pandemic?

In the fight against the pandemic, the protection of life and health of Cabo Verdeans continues to be at the forefront. Since the first COVID-19 case was detected in Cabo Verde on March 19, 2020, the country has registered about 14,500 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection, which is the cause of COVID-19, as we know. The majority of these infections occurred among women (about 52%), and the most affected group are young adults between 20 to 39 years of age (about 47%).

The country had to reorganize its health services to avoid exposing other patients with chronic diseases and those in need of surgery. Overall, there has been no significant increase in the number of deaths from respiratory illnesses. Yet, the impact on our communities have been immense, particularly on mental health. With the isolation and lockdown measures, people who depended on informal work have been the most impacted. The vaccine awakens a new hope and the Government is accelerating the steps for the execution of the Vaccination Plan and has already allocated resources to implement and rollout the plan.

Since March 2020, Cabo Verde has registered about 14,500 cases of COVID-19. The island economy has been severely affected by the crisis, with GDP expected to contract by 11% in 2020. @UNCaboVerde

Can you tell us a bit more about these challenges and what you think are the key priorities for a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Cabo Verde?

For an island nation like Cabo Verde, with a population of about 550,000 people, vaccine readiness is one of the main priorities for the coming months as it involves a lot of planning in terms of logistics and value chains.

We focused our efforts to ensure that the country has the appropriate cold chain systems, all the logistics in place for safe storage and transportation of vaccines between the major islands, and to have access to sufficient doses to vaccinate as many people as possible. It is also critical to train vaccinators and have a technical reference system in place. We expect to be able to vaccinate at least 60% of the population.

Despite all the challenges, we are very confident that our healthcare workers are well prepared for this immense task. The first priority was to have a well-designed plan and well-defined resources, in accordance with WHO guidelines. We have adopted the standard vaccination model applied in other countries to ensure that at least 95% of the population at risk is included in the first phase of vaccination. Health professionals will therefore be the first in line, followed by people most at risk of having severe symptoms. In addition, 10,000 tourism professionals will be among the fourth priority group in order to help reboot the tourism sector and provide more security to tourists visiting the archipelago.

What is the government doing to communicate on the vaccination campaign and what systems are you putting in place to ensure that there is a fair and equitable access to the vaccine?

So, unlike many other countries, there shouldn’t be much hesitancy regarding the vaccine among people. We are building on our previous experience to plan a risk communication campaign to raise awareness among the target population for vaccination and explain the process and criteria for choosing priority groups. This campaign should start when vaccines are available in the country.

Cabo Verde has a strong health system and a successful immunization policy, achieving a coverage rate 99% of vaccine coverage for most common diseases. @UNCaboVerde

Are there any lessons Cabo Verde can share with its neighbors in terms of preparation and readiness?

First, there needs to be a strong commitment from the government to work across sectors. Then, you need to have a well-prepared team ready to do its best and to establish a national vaccination and deployment plan well in advance together with the technical support of international partners. Planning, commitment and leadership are fundamental in this process.  

The World Bank is providing additional financing to support Cabo Verde’s COVID-19 immunization plan and help with the procurement of vaccine in coordination with the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility. What more can the international community and the World Bank do to help African countries with affordable and equitable access to vaccine?

The World Bank has been a great partner in this process. In Cabo Verde, we have benefited from high-level technical discussions, timely responses and guidance to help achieve critical milestones and goals established at each stage.