The World Health Organisation (WHO) says Africa recorded a 43 per cent week-on-week rise of COVID-19 mortality.
This, however, increases hospital admissions, as countries face shortages in oxygen and intensive care beds.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, disclosed this during a virtual press conference on Africa’s COVID-19 update organised by APO Group.
Moeti said that fatalities increased from 4,384 deaths recorded in the previous week to 6,273 in the week ending on July 11.
According to her, Africa is now less than one per cent away from the weekly peak reached in January when 6,294 deaths were recorded.
She said that Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia accounted for 83 per cent of the new deaths recorded in the past week.
Moeti said that the continent’s fatality rate, which was the proportion of deaths among confirmed cases, currently stands at 2.6 per cent against the global average of 2.2 per cent.
“COVID-19 cases have risen for eight straight weeks, topping six million on July 13.
“Over the past month, Africa recorded an additional one million cases. This is the shortest time it’s taken so far to add one million cases.
“Comparatively, it took around three months to move from four million to five million cases. This COVID-19 surge is the fastest the continent has seen,” she said.
She attributed the surge to public fatigue with key health measures and an increased spread of variants.
“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.
“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 health workers, supplies, equipment and infrastructure needed to provide care to severely ill COVID-19 patients,” she said.
Moeti said that hospital admissions in about 10 countries have increased rapidly and at least six countries are facing shortages of intensive care unit beds.
She added that demand for medical oxygen had spiked and was estimated to be 50 per cent higher than at the same time in 2020, noting that supply had not kept up.
The director said that WHO assessment of six countries facing resurgence revealed that just 27 per cent of the medical oxygen needed was produced.
“The number one priority for African countries is boosting oxygen production to give critically ill patients a fighting chance.
“Effective treatment is the last line of defence against COVID-19 and it must not crumble,” she said.
Moeti noted that insufficient quantity, poor maintenance of production plants, as well as challenges in distribution, scarcity of cylinders, personnel or technical skills was among the barriers to adequate medical oxygen supply in Africa.
She said that a WHO survey to which 30 African countries responded, only 18 countries had included corticosteroids in their national treatment guidelines, as recommended by WHO.
Moeti said that nine countries are including medications that are not recommended in treating COVID-19, such as hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir.
She added that WHO was working with countries to improve COVID-19 treatment and critical care capacities by providing guidance on clinical management and support to update protocols and train health workers.
The director said that along with its partners, WHO was also delivering essential medical supplies, such as oxygen cylinders and had supported the manufacture and repair of oxygen production plants.
She said that the spike in cases comes amid inadequate vaccine supplies, adding that the continent had vaccinated 52 million people since the start of the vaccine rollout in March.
According to her, this accounts for just 1.6 per cent of the 3.5 billion people vaccinated worldwide.
She said that only 18 million people in Africa were fully vaccinated, representing 1.5 per cent of the continent’s population compared with over 50 per cent in some high-income countries.
“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,” she said.
Moeti said that additional vaccine supplies expected in the coming weeks and months would assist shore up the vaccination rates.
She said that about 190 million extra COVID-19 vaccine doses would be needed to fully vaccinate 10 per cent of Africa’s population by September.
Moeti said that about 750 million doses of vaccines would be required to fully vaccinate 30 per cent by the end of 2021.
By Oluwafunke Ishola