Surge of new cases threatens health facilities
By Sola Ogundipe
Africa is unprepared in the face of an imminent outbreak of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the continent, the World Health Organisation, WHO has warned.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who gave the warning during the weekly online press conference, worried that bottlenecks in vaccine deliveries and a lack of key resources in frontline care, were pointers that Africa was not ready, even as she called for better equipment for the hospital and medical staff.
“Many African hospitals and clinics are still far from ready to cope with a huge rise in critically ill patients. The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising. Treatment is the last line of defence against this virus and we cannot let it be breached.”
She warned that African countries must urgently boost critical care capacity to prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed. even as vaccine shipments grind to a near halt.
“While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups. I’m urging countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care,” she stated.
According to WHO, Africa has officially registered over 4.8 million COVID-19 cases and 130,000 deaths, representing 2.9 percent of global cases and 3.7 percent of deaths.
Only two percent of Africans to date have received at least one vaccine jab, while 24 percent of the world’s population is now vaccinated.
As the continent struggles with vaccine shortages, the care of critically ill COVID-19 patients is also lagging behind other parts of the world. While Africa has 2.9 percent of cases globally, it accounts for 3.7 percent of deaths.
Of six countries that have not kicked off immunisation, four are in Africa — Tanzania, Burundi, Chad and Eritrea.
She warned that as vaccine shipments to the continent grind to a near halt, the risk of a surge in COVID-19 cases increases, African countries must urgently boost critical care capacity to prevent health facilities from being overwhelmed.
The combined effect of weak observance of preventive measures, increased population movement among others, have heightened the risk of COVID-19 resurgence in many countries.
“In the last two weeks, Africa recorded a 20 percent increase in cases compared with the previous fortnight. The pandemic is trending upwards in 14 countries and in the past week alone, eight countries witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30 percent in cases.
In a survey last month, the agency found that health facilities and personnel that are crucial for critically ill COVID-19 patients are grossly inadequate in many African countries.
Of 23 countries surveyed, most had less than one intensive care unit bed per 100,000 population and only one-third had mechanical ventilators.
By comparison, rich countries such as Germany and the United States have more than 25 ICU beds per 100,000 people.
In a weekly bulletin, the WHO said it had detected an “exponential” rise of cases in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo., DRC.
A DRC health ministry official confirmed “the third wave of COVID-19 is already there — it’s the Indian (Delta) and South African (Beta) variants,” adding that this wave was potentially “deadlier” than previous ones.
Simultaneously, Africa is facing a shortage of vaccines, with deliveries almost marking time, according to WHO.
The WHO is hoping for new deliveries in vaccine COVAX scheme, including a pledge of 80 million doses from the United States.