Deaths increase 43% over previous week
Cases top 6m
By Sola Ogundipe
Africa is witnessing the fastest surge ever in COVID-19 as cases have risen for eight straight weeks, topping six million on Tuesday as the continent recorded a 43 per cent week-on-week rise in COVID-19 deaths, increased hospital admissions, and shortages in oxygen and intensive care beds.
According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, fatalities increased to 6, 273 in the week ending on 11 July 2021 from 4, 384 deaths in the previous week. Africa is now less than 1 percent shy of the weekly peak reached in January when 6, 294 deaths were recorded.
The continent’s case fatality rate, which is the proportion of deaths among confirmed cases, currently stands at 2.6 percent against the global average of 2.2 percent.
The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, lamented that the surge is driven by public fatigue with key health measures and an increased spread of variants.
Moeti who spoke during a virtual press conference on Thursday noted that comparatively, it took around three months to move from four million to five million cases, but it has taken just 1 month to reach six million cases.
“This COVID-19 surge is the fastest the continent has seen. Deaths have climbed steeply for the past five weeks. This is a clear warning sign that hospitals in the most impacted countries are reaching a breaking point.
“Under-resourced health systems in countries are facing dire shortages of the health workers, supplies, equipment and infrastructure needed to provide care to severely ill COVID-19 patients.
“Demand for medical oxygen has spiked and is now estimated to be 50 percent higher than at the same time in 2020, yet supply has not kept up. A rapid WHO assessment of six countries facing a resurgence found that just 27 percent of the medical oxygen needed is produced.”
Noting that the number one priority for African countries is boosting oxygen production to give critically ill patients a fighting chance, she argued that effective treatment is the last line of defence against COVID-19 and it must not crumble.
“The double barrier of vaccine scarcity and treatment challenges is seriously undermining effective response to the surging pandemic. However, with the expected fresh vaccine shipments and strong preventive measures, we can still turn the tide against the virus, ” Moeti said.
To date, the Delta variant, which is currently the most transmissible of all variants, has been detected in 21 African countries, while the Alpha variant is in 35 countries and Beta in 30.
The WHO said hospital admissions in around 10 countries have increased rapidly and at least six countries are facing shortages of intensive care unit beds.
Insufficient quantity, disrepair or poor maintenance of production plants as well as challenges in distribution, scarcity of cylinders, personnel or technical skills are among the barriers to adequate medical oxygen supply in Africa..
In a survey of 30 African countries, only 18 countries had included corticosteroids in their national treatment guidelines, as recommended by WHO. Nine countries are including medications that are not recommended in treating COVID-19, such as hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir.
The rise in cases comes amid inadequate vaccine supplies. The continent has vaccinated 52 million people since the start of the vaccine rollout in March this year, accounting for just 1.6 percent of the 3.5 billion people vaccinated worldwide.
Only 18 million people in Africa are fully vaccinated, representing 1.5 percent of the continent’s population compared with over 50 percent in some high-income countries.
The WHO noted that additional vaccines supplies expected in the coming weeks and months will help shore up the vaccination rates.
Around 190 million extra COVID-19 vaccine doses will be needed to fully vaccinate 10 percent of Africa’s population by September 2021, with around 750 million more doses needed to fully vaccinate 30% by the end of 2021.