According to the Regional Office for Africa of the World Health Organization (WHO), the rise in the death toll comes as the African continent battles new, more contagious variants and prepares for the largest vaccination campaign in its history.
“This dark step must allow everyone to refocus on eradicating the virus,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Director of the WHO Regional Office for Africa.
More than 22,300 deaths have been reported in Africa in the past 28 days, up from nearly 16,000 in the previous 28 days. And according to the WHO, the African continent should cross the threshold of 100,000 deaths in the coming days.
A second more deadly wave
In the past week, the WHO African region reported more than 84,800 cases and just over 3,200 deaths, down 22% in cases and 30% in deaths respectively from the previous week. According to the WHO, this is the third week in a row that the region has reported a drop in the number of new cases and deaths.
But the situation varies from country to country. A total of 32 countries saw an increase in the number of deaths in the past 28 days, while 21 reported stable or declining rates. This trend is reflected in a death rate, which rose to 3.7% in the last 28 days, compared to 2.4% in the previous 28 days.
This increase in Covid-19-related mortality comes as this second wave of cases in Africa, which began in October 2020, appears to have peaked on January 6. According to the WHO, this second wave, which spread much faster than the first, is much “deadlier”.
In this second wave, cases far exceeded the peak reached in the first, and health facilities were overwhelmed.
Oxygen production remains insufficient in 15 African countries
“The increase in the number of deaths is tragic, but it is also a worrying sign that health workers and health systems in Africa are dangerously overburdened,” Dr Moeti warned.
Preliminary reports from 21 countries show that 66% of them reported insufficient critical care capacity. Almost a quarter of countries reported burnout among health workers. Some 15 countries have indicated that the production of oxygen, essential for critically ill patients with Covid-19, remains insufficient.
The first anniversary of the first case of Covid-19 in Africa comes as the continent faces the spread of new strains of the virus. The South African variant (501Y.V2 also known as B1.351), has been detected in eight African countries, while the British variant (VOC202012 / 01 also known as B1.1.7) has been reported in six countries of the continent.
The WHO warns that new variants are likely to appear as the virus continues to spread. Under these conditions, the UN agency recommends that “preventive measures be maintained even if Africa is preparing to start vaccinations against the coronavirus”.
“Go out and get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is available” – Dr Moeti
“If the cases remain mostly mild and moderate and do not require intensive care, then we can save many lives,” insists Dr. Moeti, delivering a message to Africans: “Get out and get vaccinated as soon as one vaccine will be available in your country ”.
While the two variants are reported in at least 14 countries, South Africa announced this week that it is halting the rollout of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine after a study showed “disappointing” results against the new one. South African variant of the Covid. “This is obviously very disappointing news, but the situation is very dynamic”, noted the head of the African branch of the WHO.
“While a vaccine that protects against all forms of Covid-19 is our greatest hope, preventing serious cases that overwhelm hospitals is crucial,” Dr. Moeti noted, adding that “the pandemic is far from being completed ”.
If vaccines are an “essential tool” in the fight against the coronavirus, the WHO calls for strengthening investments and support for health systems. “We need to support our healthcare workers, by wearing a mask, cleaning their hands regularly and respecting safe physical distancing,” said Dr Moeti.
More than 3.7 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported on the African continent, including more than 3.2 million patients cured and 96,000 deaths.