The World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, says deaths from COVID-19 in Africa have surged by 40 percent in the last month, pushing Africa’s death toll towards 100,000 since the first reported case on the continent on 14 February, 2020.
This comes as Africa battles new, more contagious COVID-19 variants and gears up for its largest-ever vaccination drive.
Speaking during a virtual briefing last Wednesday, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, said, “The increasing deaths from COVID-19 we are seeing are tragic, but are also disturbing warning signs that health workers and health systems in Africa are dangerously overstretched. This grim milestone must refocus everyone on stamping out the virus.”
According to the agency, over 22,300 deaths were reported in Africa in the last 28 days, compared with nearly 16,000 deaths in the previous 28 days and the continent is expected to reach 100,000 deaths in the coming days.
“Thirty-two countries reported a rise in deaths in the last 28 days, while 21 reported flat or falling rates. Africa’s COVID-19 fatality rate rose to 3.7 percent during the last 28 days compared to 2.4 percent in the previous 28 days and is and is now well above the global average.
“This spike in mortality comes as Africa’s second wave of cases which began in October 2020 seems to have peaked on 6 January 2021. The second wave spread much faster than the first and is far more lethal.
“In the second wave as cases surged far beyond the peak experienced in the first wave, health facilities have become overwhelmed.
“Preliminary reports which WHO has received from 21 countries show that 66% reported inadequate critical care capacity, 24 percent reported burnout among health workers and 15 countries reported that oxygen production, crucial for severely ill COVID-19 patients, remains insufficient.
“The one-year milestone comes as the continent faces the spread of new strains of virus. Variant 501Y.V2 (also known as B1.351), first identified in South Africa, has been detected in eight African countries, while the VOC202012/01 variant (also known as B1.1.7) initially identified in the United Kingdom has been detected in six countries on the continent,” it said.
Recall that South Africa announced that it will pause the roll-out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine because of a study indicating that the vaccine is less effective in preventing mild and moderate infection with the 501Y.V2 variant that is dominant in the country.
“This is obviously very disappointing news, but the situation is very dynamic. While a vaccine that protects against all forms of COVID-19 is our biggest hope, preventing severe cases which overwhelm hospitals is crucial,” said Dr. Moeti.
“If cases remain mostly mild and moderate and don’t require critical care then we can save many lives. So, my message is, go out and get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available in your country,” she added.