Deaths due to COVID-19 have skyrocketed 40% in Africa over the past month, bringing the number of victims closer to the 100,000 mark since the first case on the continent occurred on February 14, 2020. This surge comes as Africa struggles with new, more contagious variants and prepares for its largest vaccination campaign.
More than 22,300 deaths have been reported in Africa in the past 28 days, compared to almost 16,000 deaths in the previous 28 days.The continent is expected to reach 100,000 deaths in the coming days. Thirty-two countries reported an increase in deaths over the past 28 days, while 21 reported stable or declining rates. In Africa, the COVID-19 mortality rate has risen to 3.7% over the past 28 days, from 2.4% over the previous 28 days, and is now well above the global average.
This peak in death occurs as the second wave of cases in Africa, which began in October 2020, appears to have peaked on January 6, 2021. The second wave spread much faster than the first and is far more deadly.
“The growing number of deaths due to COVID-19 that we are seeing is tragic, but there are also disturbing red flags that Africa’s health personnel and systems are severely overwhelmed. This grim course must force each of us to focus again on the fight against the virus,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa.
In the second wave, while cases increased well beyond the peak recorded in the first wave, health structures were overwhelmed.Preliminary reports received by WHO from 21 countries show that 66% of them reported insufficient ICU capacity, 24% reported exhaustion of health workers and 15 countries reported oxygen production, critical for critically ill patients with COVID-19, remains insufficient.
This one-year phase comes at a time when the continent is facing the spread of new virus strains. Variant 501Y.V2 (also known as B1.351), first identified in South Africa, was detected in eight African countries, while variant VOC202012/01 (also known as B1.1.7) initially identified in the United KingdomUni has been detected in six countries on the continent.
This week, South Africa announced it would halt the deployment of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine following a study indicating that the vaccine is less effective in preventing mild and moderate infections caused by the dominant 501Y.V2 variant in the country.
This is obviously very disappointing news, but the situation is very changing. A vaccine that protects against all forms of COVID-19 is our greatest hope, but preventing serious cases that overwhelm hospitals is crucial,” said Dr. Moeti. If the cases remain mostly mild and moderate and do not require intensive care, then we can save many lives. So my message is, go get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is available in your country.”
On February 10, 2021, the Strategic Advisory Group of Immunization Experts, known as SAGE, strongly recommended countries to use the AstraZeneca vaccine, for priority groups, even if variants are present in a country.
These preliminary findings highlight the urgency of a coordinated approach to monitoring and evaluating variants and their potential impact on vaccine effectiveness. The WHO will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as new data become available.
New variants are likely to appear as the virus continues to spread, so preventive measures must be maintained as Africa prepares to begin vaccination against the virus.
The pandemic is far from over, and vaccines are only an essential tool in our fight against the virus. We need to strengthen investments and support for our health workers and health systems by continuing to respect mask wear, regular hand washing and physical distancing,” said Dr. Moeti.
Dr Moeti spoke today at a virtual press conference hosted by APO Group. She was joined by His Excellency Dr Hala Zaid, Minister of Health and Population of Egypt, and Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Professor of Global Health and Special Advisor to the President of the European Commission on COVID-19. Also present to answer questions were Dr Richard Mihigo, coordinator of the vaccination and vaccine development programme at the WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Dr Nsenga Ngoy, Emergency Program Officer at the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
Source : OMS